SAN JUAN, P.R.--Cuba's up-and-down ride through the inaugural World Baseball Classic hit another valley on Monday against a powerhouse Dominican team.
There was no knockout this time; instead, Cuba's defense opened the door for the Dominicans to ride an early wave of runs to a 7-3 victory over the reigning Olympic champions.
Their conduct after the contest--for the second time in five games the Cuban delegation refused to show up for post-game interviews--raised the ire of baseball officials.
The Cubans didn't give a reason for the post-game boycott, but it was likely in response to another incident in the stands at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, when an anti-Castro group sitting behind home plate took off their outer shirts to expose the T-shirts beneath, which spelled out - one person at a time - Abajo Fidel (Down with Fidel) in English.
"They called us earlier in the game to say they wouldn't be attending (the press conference) and we spoke with them afterwards and they said no," said Major League Baseball press official John Blundell. "We're not happy about the situation, but we can't force them to come."
After falling behind, 7-0, the Cubans made the game interesting on the field as well, scoring twice in the ninth inning and loading the bases for power-hitting pinch-hitter Juan Pedroso, but Dominican closer Fernando Rodney struck him out to end the game, allowing his teammates to finally exhale.
"We won. That's the important thing," Dominican manager Manny Acta said. "But we can play a lot better than we did. We should have scored 12 runs, we should have caught the ball more than we did and it burns me that I had to use my closer (Rodney) in the ninth inning when we had a six-run lead. Because of the tournament rules I can't use him again (on Tuesday)."
The Dominicans' victory leaves both teams with a 1-1 record in the second round of the 16-nation tournament. Each team has one game remaining. The Dominicans play Venezuela on Tuesday. Cuba gets its rematch with Puerto Rico (1-0) on Wednesday night. The two top teams from this four-team pool move on to the semifinals at Petco Park in San Diego from March 18-20.
Odalis Perez shut the Cuban offense down over the first 4 2/3 pitches. Perez needed just 48 pitches to get the first 14 outs. He allowed just three hits, walked a batter and struck out three.
"They are fastball hitters and Odalis was really effective changing speeds on them. That was the game plan and he followed it perfectly," Acta said.
Perez said he felt the pressure in the early going, but settled in once the Dominicans broke on top. "If we had lost (Monday) we would be going home, so I knew how important this start was," he said.
Cuban starter Vicyohandry Odelin didn't allow a hit through the first two innings, but quickly found trouble in the third. Odelin walked Pirates farmhand Ronnie Paulino to open the inning, and after the Cuban defense cut down Paulino at second base on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Willy Taveras, Placido Polanco, in the lineup for a struggling Alfonso Soriano, singled, and Miguel Tejada cleared the bases with a double.
Yadier Pedroso then came on to replace Odelin. He walked Albert Pujols, and got David Ortiz to fly out to right field for the second out before Moises Alou grounded what should have been the third out to Michel Enriquez at third base.
Enriquez, however, threw wildly to first base and both Tejada and Pujols scored, stretching the Dominican lead to 4-0.
The Dominicans added another unearned run in the fourth inning when Paulino hit a ground-rule double to start the inning, and one out later, Cuban first baseman Ariel Borrero failed to come up with a ground ball by Polanco, allowing Paulino to score.
The Dominicans added a run in the fifth on a home run by David Ortiz that sailed over the bleachers in right field. Following his third home run of the Classic, Ortiz shot a long look back at chatty Cuban catcher Ariel Pestano after the blast. The Dominicans added their final run in the sixth when Ortiz worked a bases-loaded walk.
Cuba scored its first run on a solo home run by Yuliesky Gourriel, his second of the Classic, leading off the seventh inning, and had a chance at more, putting runners on second and third with one out on a single by Yoandy Garlobo and a double by Frederich Cepeda.
But Pestano struck out and Dominican reliever Duaner Sanchez came on to strike out pinch-hitter Elier Sanchez on three pitches.
That came back to haunt the Cubans in the ninth when they rallied for two runs.
Phillies righthander Robinson Tejeda, on for Sanchez to start the ninth, walked the first two batters he faced. With one out Juan Encarnacion misplayed Borrero's fly ball, allowing Garlobo to score. Alexei Ramirez followed with a single to center field to score Cepeda to make it 7-3, forcing Acta to bring on Rodney.
Rodney struck out Eduardo Paret, then walked Enriquez to load the bases for Pedroso, one of the Cuban roster's most potent forces.
Pedroso had come on for Gourriel in the eighth inning after Gourriel was forced to leave the game after getting hit in the right index finger on a pitch from Sanchez. It appeared Gourriel had swung at the pitch and the ball had hit both his hand and the bat, but he was awarded first base.
He never made it there, however. Cuba's team doctor, Antonio Castro--one of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's five children-- tended to the injury, but quickly determined that Gourriel couldn't continue.
Gourriel was scheduled to get x-rays on the finger after the game to determine if it is fractured.
Pedroso took a big hack on a 1-1 pitch, then tried to check his swing on a 2-2 pitch, but the home plate umpire ruled his bat crossed the plate, ending the game.