Cuba Tops USA In World Cup Medal Round

Cuba brushed aside Team USA in the 36th World Cup in the Netherlands, jumping on the Americans early and often to win 11-3 and end Team USA’s chances of winning the gold medal.

The U.S. has not beaten Cuba in World Cup play since 1970. Team USA plays Nicaragua, a 2-1 loser to Panama, in the consolation round Thursday, while Cuba continues defending the World Cup title it has claimed eight consecutive times, dating back to 1982.

Cuba took a 3-0 lead in the first inning and scored seven runs in 3 2/3 innings off Brian Bannister (Mets), Team USA’s top starter coming into the event. Bannister, the son of former big leaguer Floyd Bannister and a former Southern California star, had a wonderful season in the minors (13-5, 2.74, 142-40 K-BB ratio in 154 IP), but he had a World Cup to forget. He got two crucial starts, against Nicaragua in pool play and against Cuba, and just didn’t have success, giving up 13 runs in seven innings over those two starts.

Topping it all off, the two teams had what the official press release for the game termed an “altercation” at the plate early in the game that caused both dugouts to empty. The game also featured an ejection in the bottom of the seventh, when reliever James Garcia (Giants) was tossed for arguing with home-plate umpire Willie Rodriguez. Both teams had been issued warnings after the early dust-up. The teams traded hit batsmen, as Cuba beaned Ben Zobrist (Astros) in the fifth, and Cuba’s Juan Moreno took a dose in the sixth from Jason Phillips (Devil Rays).

Cuba took an early 4-0 lead, scoring three in the first on a bases-loaded double by veteran catcher Ariel Pestano (the 2004 Olympic MVP) and adding a run in the second on an RBI double by Michel Enriquez. However, Team USA got within 4-2 in the third as Brant Ust (Red Sox) singled to lead off and advanced to third on a double by Lastings Milledge (Mets). Zobrist’s RBI groundout made it 4-1, and Mike Cervenak (Giants) extended his tournament hitting streak to nine games with an RBI single to make it 4-2.

Cuba, however, responded, first by pulling starting pitcher Adiel Palma at the first hint of trouble in the fourth inning. Veteran righty Pedro Luis Lazo, whom Team USA beat to win Olympic gold in 2000, entered the game in the fourth and pitched the last 5 2/3 innings, giving up one run on four hits the rest of the way while striking out 10. The only run came on a solo homer by Bryan LaHair (Mariners), his third of the tournament and Team USA’s 14th homer.

Then in the bottom of the fourth, Cuba put the game away with four runs, with Yuliesky Gourriel, Cuba’s best hitter, making it 8-2 with a two-run homer off Phillips. It was Gourriel’s tournament-best seventh home run.

In other games Wednesday in the medal round:

• Dutch lefthander Diegomar Markwell dominated Puerto Rico, tossing eight shutout innings and giving up just two hits as the host Netherlands beat Puerto Rico 10-0 in a an eight-inning mercy-rule game. Markwell struck out two. Percy Isenia homered and doubled for the Dutch.

• Panama beat Nicaragua 2-1, scoring the tie-breaking run in the eighth on a two-out single by Freddy Herrera that scored Jaime Jaen from second base.

• Japan got another blow in international play as it lost 5-1 to arch-rival Korea. Korea took a 3-0 lead in the second inning and held on in the ninth after Japan loaded the bases with none out. Reliever Won Sam Jang replaced Dae Sung Choi and got a strikeout and game-ending double play to get the save.