Team USA's run through the Pan American Games is over, and the ending is all too familiar. The U.S. was going for its first Pan Am gold medal since 1967, but standing in its way was Cuba, winner of all nine Pan Am baseball tournaments since '67. The Cubans made it 10 straight with a 3-1 win against Team USA on Friday morning in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
It was deja vu all over again for Team USA, which also suffered a 3-1 loss to Cuba in the 2003 gold-medal game when Jered Weaver was out-dueled by 31-year-old Norge Vera. This time around, it was 36-year-old Cuban stalwart Adiel Palma besting 20-year-old Jacob Thompson.
Palma limited the U.S. to a run on four hits over 7 2/3 innings while striking out nine before handing off to fellow veteran Pedro Luis Lazo, who struck out three over the final 1 1/3. The U.S. has gotten to Lazo in other forums recently, including last fall in the Olympic qualifier and in 2000's Olympic gold medal game, but Lazo got the last laugh Friday.
Team USA had its best chance to tie the game in the ninth when Pedro Alvarez (Vanderbilt) singled off Lazo with two outs. Justin Smoak (South Carolina), who is tied for the team lead with three home runs but hasn't hit one since June 24, flied out to center field to end the game.
“It was a tough loss, but I thought we played well,” Team USA coach Mike Weathers (Long Beach State) said. "We couldn’t solve their pitching. Both teams played very well. We should be very proud to win a silver medal. We overcame a lot and accomplished many things. These guys will take home a lot of memories.”
The Cubans got to Thompson for two runs in the third inning on Alexander Mayeta's two-run double, and they tacked on another in the fourth, chasing Thompson after the inning. Team USA answered with its only run in the bottom of the fourth, when Jordan Danks led off with a double and Justin Smoak singled him home.
The USA bullpen kept it close for the rest of the game, as Tyson
Ross, Josh Romanski, Brett Hunter and Cody Satterwhite combined to
pitch five shutout innings of relief, allowing just three hits while
striking out five. But Palma and Lazo were too much for Team USA's
offense, which struck out 12 times without drawing a walk and managed just one hit after the fifth inning.
Palma has been Cuba's best lefthanded pitchers internationally for the last five years, and he was tailor-made to face Team USA's lefthanded-heavy lineup. Team USA's only starter that hits righthanded is left fielder Logan Forsythe (Arkansas), though Team USA started three switch-hitters in Smoak, Petey Paramore (Arizona State) and Danny Espinosa (Long Beach State).
Team USA finished the Pan Am games with a 4-1 record and another silver medal. Next up is a series against China that starts Sunday in Mobile, Ala.