Cuba’s Rally Falls Short Against Dominican Republic

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.

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).”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.