Cuba Takes Intercontinental Cup Title

See also: Intercontinental Cup Heads To Semifinals
See also: Intercontinental Cup Opens In Taiwan

With one last chance to save face in an otherwise disappointing year, Cuba’s national baseball team came through this weekend.

Cuba, long the dominant force in international baseball, had won all of one tournament this year, the Central American Games. When it had stepped out onto the larger world stage, Cuban teams had played well–see a second-place finish in March at the inaugural World Baseball Classic–but not well enough.

The same Cuban national team, playing at home in Havana, lost to Team USA’s roster of minor leaguers in the Americas Olympic qualifier in August, and Cuba’s junior national and college national teams similarly had failed to win tournaments on Cuban soil.

Yuliesky Gourriel, Pedro Luis Lazo & Co. had one last chance at 2006 redemption, though, in the Intercontinental Cup in Taiwan, and didn’t squander this last chance. After losing to Taiwan in the final round-robin game, Cuba held off the hosts 5-4 in the semifinals, then rallied from a 2-0 deficit and beat the Netherlands 6-3 in 11 innings to claim the event’s championship.

Cuba has now won back-to-back IC’s, claiming the event the last time it was played in 2002. This Intercontinental Cup didn’t feature a strong field–Cuba was the only nation from the Western Hemisphere to participate–but Cuba was nonetheless challenged, yet reverted to form and came through when it mattered.

Most of all, Cuba seems to have found a new international ace in righthander Frank Montieth. (Some rosters have Montieth’s name with only the first ‘t’ but it’s pronounced ‘mon-tee-yuh’ in either spelling.) Montieth, who just turned 22, didn’t factor into the decision Sunday, but he struck out eight in 7 2/3 innings of scoreless relief and was the event’s best pitcher. He posted a 0.66 ERA in 13 2/3 innings and struck out 15, giving up just six hits and three walks.

He gave up his first earned run of the tournament in the 10th inning Sunday, though, as a game Dutch team gave Cuba all it wanted. The Dutch took a 2-0 lead in the second inning off venerable Cuban righty Norge Vera, and 32-year-old Dutch ace Rob Cordemans–who pitched in the Expos system after starring at Indian River (Fla.) JC in the late 1990s–held Cuba in check, giving up three hits and one run in six innings. One of the top pitchers in international play for years, Cordemans posted a 2.08 ERA in the event over 17 1/3 innings.

However, Cuba rallied of Cordemans and reliever Diegomar Markwell (the former Blue Jays farmhand) for an unearned run to tie the score at 2 in the seventh. Cuba then took its first lead in the 10th on a solo homer by center fielder Giorvis Duvergel, but Montieth blew the lead in the bottom half,

But in the 11th, Cuba loaded the bases against relievers Tom Stuifbergen and David Draijer, and right fielder Yoandry Urgells provided the game’s biggest hit with a three-run triple. Lazo, who had relieved Montieth in the 10th, finished up for the victory in relief.

Host Taiwan won the bronze medal on a combined four-hitter by Chien-Fu Yang and–you guessed it–Indians farmhand Sung-Wei Tseng. The righthander, who signed for a $300,000 bonus in July, threw three shutout innings of relief and struck out five for the save, capping a busy, successful tournament run. He pitched 16 2/3 innings over five games, went 1-0, 1.08 with a save, and struck out 11 while walking three. Yang was just as good, going 1-0, 1.62 for the hosts in 16 2/3 innings.

Australia took home fifth place by beating Italy 3-2, as lefthander Tim Cox (Red Sox) struck out six in four scoreless innings to get the win. Righty Brendan Wise (Tigers), the highest-drafted Australian ever (eighth round, 2005), got the save with a scoreless frame.