by Eric Edwards
March 10, 2006
SAN JUAN, P.R.–The Cuban national team made a Netherlands lineup that included Andruw Jones and Randall Simon look like a bunch of amateurs on Thursday night, pounding the Dutch, 11-2 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium to qualify themselves and Puerto Rico for the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
Those two teams – both 2-0 – will face off tonight at 8:30 p.m. in a game that will determine only the order of the teams each will face in the tournament’s second round, which starts Sunday at this same venue.
Dicky Gonzalez will start for Puerto Rico. Cuban manager Higinio Velez has yet to name a starter.
The Cuban team refused to attend the post-game press conference Thursday and briefly threatened to pull out of the tournament after an incident in the stands behind home plate led San Juan police to briefly detain a member of the Cuban delegation in the seventh inning.
Identified by a high-ranking San Juan police official as Antonio Mesa, the Cuban delegation member was trying to get two people, one a member of a Cuban dissident group in Puerto Rico, to remove a sign that read “Down with Fidel”.
The two men who took turns holding the sign identified themselves as Enrique Rubio and Jose Garcia Pino. Garcia Pino is a Cuban exile living in Puerto Rico who took part in a small but boisterous anti-Castro demonstration in front of Hiram Bithorn Stadium on Wednesday.
A high-ranking member of the Cuban delegation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he demanded that Major League Baseball officials and tournament organizers clamp down on such incidents or the Cuban team would pull out of the event.
“The problem started with four or five counterrevolutionaries displaying signs and yelling obscenities at the Cuban delegation,” said the Cuban official. “Rather than intervening to defuse the situation, the police showed their support for these actions.”
The incident, which happened when the Cubans were already well ahead, didn’t interrupt play, but will surely have everyone on edge for tonight’s game, which will be played in front of a full house and garner a far wider television audience.
Thursday’s victory was the kind of beating Cuba used to hand out regularly back when the only tournaments they played in were amateur only, but it was unexpected given the team’s struggles in an 8-6 victory over Panama the day before.
This one, however, was over not long after it began. Every Cuban starter except captain Eduardo Paret had a hit, seven different players scored runs and six different players drove at least one in.
Yoandy Garlobo and Osmani Urrutia each homered and knocked in three runs, 38-year-old starter Ormari Romero took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and Yadel Marti allowed just one hit over the final 3 1/3 innings for a Cuban team that looked far more relaxed on Thursday night.
Romero walked the fist batter he faced, ex-big leaguer Eugene Kingsale, but eliminated him from he basepaths by getting Jones to ground into an inning-ending double play. He went on to retire the next 10 batters before Randall Simon singled with one out in the fifth inning.
By then the Cubans had built a 6-0 lead, scoring twice in the opening inning when Yuliesky Gourriel doubled home the team’s first run and scored the second, and four more times in the fourth on Garlobo’s two-run home run and RBI singles by Michel Enriquez and Ariel Borrero.
“We got outhit, outpitched, there isn’t much to say,” said Netherlands manager Robert Eenhoorn, who was on the Dutch team that beat Cuba in the round robin of the 2000 Olympics.
Asked to handicap the matchup between Cuba and Puerto Rico, Eenhoorn hedged.
“They’re both very good. Puerto Rico has a lot of major league players, but many of the Cubans could play there, too, if they had the chance.”
Simon did the only damage for the Netherlands Thursday night, singling home two runs off of Cuban reliever Adiel Palma with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. After that Cuba’s pitching dug in, and the offense piled on.
Ariel Pestano singled home a run to start a seventh-inning rally, and Urrutia ended it with a three-run blast off of righthander Calvin Maduro, another ex-big leaguer, for a 10-2 Cuba lead.
The Cubans added another in the ninth on an RBI single by Garlobo, who had four hits in the game a night after coming on as a pinch-hitter and plating the winning run in the 11th inning against Panama.
Romero was credited with the win and Netherlands starter Diegomar Markwell, the former Blue Jays farmhand who starred in the World Cup last September, allowed six hits and four runs in 3 1/3 innings in taking the loss.