Peter C. Bjarkman* (from Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
HAVANA TIMES — Cuba surged back into the lead here in Rotterdam tonight mainly on the strength of some masterful pitching by a pair of Isla stalwarts. Gutsy 36-year-old southpaw Wilbur Pérez got the call from manager Yovani Aragón for the vital must-win starting assignment and responded in heroic fashion with a neat 7-plus-inning effort that yielded only four base knocks.
Pérez had to work out of only two brief scrapes, the first coming in the third frame (two runners stranded) and the second in fifth (the bases left jammed). He struck out seven while walking five.
When Pérez wilted slightly in the eighth he was rescued by 23-year old Isla teammate Raciel Iglesias who left runners stranded in scoring position in both the eighth and ninth and picked up his second save of the week.
In addition to the fine mound work during the second showdown with the rival Dutch, Cuban hitters finally were able to string together some timely base knocks.
Yadiel Hernández (pinch hitting for Matanzas teammate Guillermo Heredia) struck the big blow with a run-producing eighth-inning single to break the ice against equally strong Dutch starter Orlando Yntema. Then Eriel Sánchez singled home a pair of welcomed insurance runs in the top of the ninth.
Through the first seven innings Yntema had continued the momentum begun by Rob Cordemans on Sunday, allowing only a quartet of Cuban singles and nothing in the way of a major offensive uprising.
Cuba has now beaten the Dutch twice in the last seven outings and ironically the two victories have been almost carbon copies. Last summer in Haarlem Vladimir García blanked Holland by the identical 4-0 tally to sandwich a lone victory in between the pair of setbacks at the 2011 Panama World Cup and the twin disasters this past March in Tokyo.
In the last seven Cuba-Holland encounters there have now been a trio of shutouts and Cuba owns two of them. But each blanking has come against a Dutch club stripped of top professionals serving in the big leagues or in the top-level minor league circuits.
Cuba now has put its tournament fate in its own hands. As long as there is no stumble on Saturday against last-place Curacao, a single win in the pair of matches on deck versus Taiwan will be sufficient to vault Aragón and company into Sunday’s finale.
One needed victory over the Chinese on either Thursday night or Friday afternoon will mean that Saturday’s Taipei-Netherlands clash will leave one of that pair with three defeats and thus on the outside looking in.
A final 4-2 Cuban record would mean a leg up on any team that drops three matches. The probable scenario still remains a Cuba-Netherlands rematch with both the tournament title and further boasting rights squarely on the table.
World Port Tournament Standings
Through Wednesday, July 3
Teams Record Points Runs (For-Against) Remaining Games
Cuba 2-1 4 7-7 Taipei, Taipei, Curacao
Chinese Taipei 2-1 4 11-11 Cuba, Cuba, Netherlands
Netherlands 2-2 4 16-9 Curacao, Taipei
Curacao 1-3 2 7-14 Netherlands, Cuba
One great irony of the tournament is that Cuba has so far owned the best pitching despite all the shortcoming of its small seven-man staff. Aragón has been able to get into the seventh frame with his starters in two of three matches, has kept the bullpen innings of Iglesias (2.2 innings with 2 saves) and Jorge Hernández (4.1 innings) to a minimum, has used Duniel Ibarra (0.2 innings) only once, and still has a fresh unused starter in Vladimir Baños.
The islanders are the only club owning two shutouts victories, and despite the seven runs permitted in the Dutch loss, they have yielded the fewest opposition tallies, two fewer than the Netherlands. Runs permitted carry vital importance in this event as they constitute the primary tiebreaker in the event of a deadlock in the standings at week’s end.
Aragón’s three starters have now worked a total of 19.1 innings, allowing but four tallies (all versus Entenza), 16 base hits, and a mere two extra base knocks (both doubles off Entenza). Of the three relievers used (Iglesias twice, Jorge Hernández and Duniel Ibarra), only Hernández has experienced a single rocky inning. But Hernández was also untouched in the first three innings worked against the Dutch on Sunday.
CUBA: Heredia strikes out called, Stayler Hernández walks, Gourriel grounds into double play (third to second to first). (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB)
Netherlands: Duursma bounces out pitcher to shortstop to first, Boekhoudt walks (pitcked off pitcher to first to shortstop), Rombley walks, Engelhardt pops out to shortstop. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 1 LOB)
CUBA: Mayeta singles to third base, Fernández reaches on bunt single, moving Mayeta to second, Tomás strikes out swinging, Peraza flies to right field, Morejón flies to left field. (0 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 2 LOB)
Netherlands: Kemp singles to shortstop, Arends bounces out second to pitcher advancing Kemp to third base, van der Meer rolls out second to first, Nooij bounces out shortstop to first. (0 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 LOB)
CUBA: Arruebarruena grounds out shortstop to first, Heredia bounces out pitcher to first, Stayler Hernández grounds out second to first. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB)
Netherlands: Daantji flies to right, Durrsma walks (steals second), Boekhoudt strikes out swinging, Rombley walks, Engelhardt strikes out swinging. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 2 LOB)
CUBA: Gourriel flies to right, Mayeta popus out to shortstop, Fernández rolls out third to first. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB)
Netherlands: Kemp bounces out second to first, Arends strikes out swinging (thrown out catcher to first), van der Meer pops out to shortstop. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB)
CUBA: Tomás flies out to right, Peraza rolls out shortstop to first, Morejón singles to left, Arruebarruena singles to left, moving Morejón to second, Heredia flies to right. (0 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 LOB)
Netherlands: Nooij singles to left, Daantji strikes out swinging, Duursma singles to left, advancing Nooij to second, Boekhoudt flies to right, Rombley walks (loading the bases), Engelhardt grounds out shortstop to first. (0 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 3 LOB)
CUBA: Stayler Hernández rolls out second to first, Gourriel pops out to second, Mayeta flies to right. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB)
Netherlands: Kemp strikes out swinging (thrown out catcher to first), Arends flies to right, van der Meer flies to left. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB)
CUBA: Fernández flies to left, Tomás flies to center, Peraza flies to left. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB)
Netherlands: Nooij pops out to first, Daantji strikes out swinging (thrown out catcher to first), Duursma strikes out swinging. (0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB)
CUBA: Morejón walks (Ibáñez pinch running), Arruebarruena sacrifices (pitcher to first) moving Ibáñez to second, Yadiel Hernández (pinch hitting for Heredia) singles to center scoring Ibáñez, Leon Boyd now pitching for Netherlands, Stayler Hernández doubles to right, moving Yadiel Hernández to third, Gourriel bounces out shortstop to first, scoring Yadiel Hernández and moving Stayler Hernández to third, Mayeta fouls out to shortstop in left field. (2 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 LOB)
Netherlands: Eriel Sánchez catching and Yadiel Hernández in center field for Cuba. Boekhoudt singles to third, Rombley flies to right, moving Boekhoudt to second, Engelhardt walks, Raciel Iglesias now pitching for Cuba, Kemp strikes out swinging, Quintin de Cuba (pinch hitting for Arends) bounces out second to first. (0 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors, 2 LOB)
CUBA: Arshwin Asjes now pitching for Netherlands, Fernández singles to left, Tomás singles to left, moving Fernández to second. Moncada (pinch hitting for Peraza) sacrifies (pitcher to first) moving runners to second and third, Sánchez singles to left scoring Fernández and Tomás (moves to second on throw), Arruebarruena strikes out swinging, Yadiel Hernández grounds out shortstop to first. (2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 1 LOB)
Netherlands: van der Meer triples to left, Nooij grounds out shortstop to first, Danntji strikes out swinging, Duursma strikes out swinging. (0 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 LOB)
(*) Peter Bjarkman is author of A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006 (McFarland, 2007) and is widely recognized as a leading authority on Cuban baseball, past and present. He has reported on Cuban League action and the Cuban national team as senior writer for www.BaseballdeCuba.com during the past six-plus years and is currently writing a book on the history of Cuba’s post-revolution national team.