Cuba’s Marti One Out From Perfection

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Cuba righthander Yadel Marti was one out away from a seven-inning perfect game as Cuba trounced Venezeula 10-0 to improve to 5-0. International baseball games end after seven innings when one team is ahead by at least 10 runs.

Pitching with a pause in his delivery reminiscent of many Japanese pitchers, Marti challenged Venezuelan hitters with his fastball, commanding the pitch to both sides of the plate. Marti fooled Venezuelan hitters all game with a pair of quality secondary pitches—a sharp-breaking curveball and a diving changeup. Marti’s perfect game ended with one out to go in the game, as first baseman Lino Connell singled on a line drive to right field. Righthander Jonder Martinez relieved Marti, who had thrown 91 pitches, and got Venezuela’s Manuel Ramirez to ground out to third base to end the game.

Marti’s near-perfection was just his latest dominant showing against Venezuela. At the World Baseball Classic last year, Marti held Venezuela hitless through his first four innings en route to a 7-2 Cuba victory . The Venezuelan team today was not as strong as the one Marti faced at the WBC, when he went up against Twins ace Johan Santana and faced a lineup that featured Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez and Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez.

For Venezuela (1-4), starter Jackson Paz had control problems early, and his defense did little to help him. The Venezuelan lefthander, a former Cardinals farmhand, made it into the second inning but did not record an out and walked four batters during the game. After getting outfielder Alfredo Despaigne to ground out to second to lead off the game, Paz walked infielder Rudy Reyes, who advanced to second base on a passed ball. Paz got the dangerous Youlieski Gouriell to hit a chopper to second base, but the pitch took a high hop over the head of second baseman (and former major leaguer) Liu Rodriguez and went into right field, scoring Reyes.

Cuba piled on the offense in the second inning, when the Cubans scored six runs and sent 10 batters to the plate. Paz got ahead in the count against outfielder Yoandry Urgelles, who battled back to draw a leadoff walk. Paz got outfielder Osmani Urrutia to hit a ground ball to second, but Rodriguez bobbled what would have been a routine double play, putting runners on first and second. The next batter, catcher Ariel Pestano, showed bunt but pulled the bat back to slap a hit between the third baseman and the shortstop to load the bases.

Paz’ control then completely deserted him, as he walked in two runs to make it a 3-0 Cuba lead before leaving the game. Righthander Beiker Graterol, who pitched four innings for the Tigers in 1999 and spent four seasons in the minor leagues, took over for Paz. Graterol induced what looked like a routine fly ball to center field, but a strong wind blowing toward home plate threw off the center fielder’s timing, and the ball dropped in front of him. He then threw to second to try to get the force out, but the throw was way off target, allowing the runners to advance to second and third and giving Cuba a 5-0 lead.

After Gourriel popped out to second for the first out of the inning, first baseman Alex Mayeta blasted a letter-high pitch off the left-center field wall for a double, scoring both runners to give Cuba a 7-0 lead.

Cuba, which has won the last nine World Cups, has also won 20 of the last 24 World Cups. The Cubans’ 25 gold medals since the inception of the World Cup in 1938 is by far the most gold medals for any country.