Mistakes doom Cuba in loss
Dominican Republic capitalizes on miscues
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
SAN JUAN -- The Cubans suffered another rare and disappointing loss on Monday, and afterward were not particularly interested in talking about it.
A day after an inspired win over Venezuela to open Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic, Cuba could not overcome its own mistakes at Hiram Bithorn Stadium and dropped a 7-3 decision to the Dominican Republic.
It was a bounce-back win for the Dominicans, who were blasted by Puerto Rico in Sunday's sloppy opener and were facing elimination against Cuba.
But it was a letdown for Team Cuba, which committed a pair of errors that led to three unearned runs in the early going. Cuba avoided a shutout with a seventh-inning solo home run from star second baseman Yulieski Gourriel, and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but lost for the second time in three games.
Twice during the game, Cuban players were exposed to messages reading, in Spanish, "Down with Fidel," a reference to Cuban President Fidel Castro. Afterward, Cuban manager Higinio Velez declined to participate in the formal postgame interview.
"To me, the Cuban team is a great team because they know how to play baseball," said Dominican starter Odalis Perez, who picked up the win after pitching 4 2/3 scoreless innings. "They have a great pitching staff. They did very well, and I understand that's why they most of the time win international competitions, because they are able to score the runs when they need it, to move a runner when they need to."
But Cuba was unable to do those little things on Monday. The team scored two runs in the ninth inning after an error by Dominican right fielder Juan Encarnacion, but left the bases loaded when pinch-hitter Joan Carlos Pedroso -- batting in place of the apparently injured Gourriel and representing the tying run -- struck out to end the game.
The Classic is proving the toughest test ever for baseball-crazy Cuba, which rattled off 19 consecutive wins in international play before losing to Puerto Rico last week. Now Cuba faces a rematch with Puerto Rico on Wednesday, potentially with its tournament life on the line.
The teams were tied until the top of the third inning, when Miguel Tejada stung a two-run double to right-center field off Cuba starter Vicyohandry Odelin.
Cuba then called for reliever Yadiel Pedroso, who walked Albert Pujols, but retired Ortiz on a flyout for out No. 2. Adrian Beltre then hit what should have been an inning-ending ground ball to Cuba's outstanding third baseman, Michel Enriquez, but the throw to first base sailed high and both runs scored.
Enriquez also endured a tough day at the plate, going 0-for-4 and hitting into double plays in each of his first three at-bats. He did draw a walk with two outs in the ninth, loading the bases and bringing the tying run to the plate before the rally fizzled.
Another Cuba error led to an unearned run in the fourth, when first baseman Ariel Borrero missed a Placido Polanco grounder and allowed Ronny Paulino to score for a 5-0 lead.
Dominican slugger David Ortiz, who entered the game batting .182 and was retired in his first two at-bats, then crushed a solo home run in the fifth inning that cleared the right-field bleachers.
Whether it was the loss or the recurrence of political signage that soured Cuba's Classic participants was unclear to the event's organizers.
What was clear was that Velez and his players were not talking.
"Maybe it's the result of the game, maybe it was a higher power," said John Blundell, Major League Baseball's media relations supervisor. "They just didn't have any interest in coming in and doing an interview."
Typically, representatives from each team participate in a bilingual press conference minutes after each game. Cuba made a similar decision to boycott the press after its March 9 win over the Netherlands, a game also interrupted by a fan holding an anti-Castro sign in the stands.
On Monday, a small airplane circled the stadium towing an anti-Castro message, and officials later confiscated a similar sign from a fan in the stands. Several members of Team Cuba peeked over the top of the dugout as a security officer confronted the bearer of that sign.
Blundell said Pedro Cabrera, Cuba's press officer, communicated the decision to skip the press conference to MLB spokesman Pat Courtney in the middle innings of Monday's game. But Blundell said Cuban officials did not specifically say whether their decision was related to the signage.
Blundell also said Cuba gave no indication it would be a no-show for Wednesday's showdown with Puerto Rico.
"They're a good team," he said. "Right now, this whole entire thing is virtually deadlocked and they're still right in the hunt."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.