My return last Friday from a weeklong sojourn in Havana was met with a firestorm of media requests for my opinions on a breaking news item apparently suggesting sharp reversals in Cuba’s long-standing Cold War with North American professional baseball.
Team Cuba split a pair of tight games with resurgent Chinese Taipei on Thursday night (3-1) and Friday afternoon (1-2) and now stands on the verge of reaching Sunday’s tournament final. All that is needed now is a repeat performance of last Saturday’s tournament-opening 3-0 whitewashing of a spunky Curacao.
Last night’s 7-0 whitewashing in Rotterdam at the hands of a stripped-down Dutch squad lacking the bulk of its WBC lineup was the fifth major loss to the Orangemen in the last six outings. The Dutch mastery once again was orchestrated last night by yet another round of brilliant mound work by veteran right hander Rob Cordemans.
With the league championship finally within Villa Clara’s reach, it was none other than Ariel Pestano who drove a final nail into the Matanzas post-season coffin with his dramatic sixth-inning grand slam smash that clinched victory and brought home the trophy in Tuesday night’s Cuban Baseball League final series.
Cuba, despite the stark disappointment of not reach the final round in San Francisco, has surprisingly also held onto its top world ranking and actually stretched its slim lead over the runner-up Americans by 21 points. Japan is third, Chinese Taipei fourth and the Netherlands fifth.
The cheering and speculation and endless debate are now all put to rest in the wake of the most polished, successful and entertaining WBC to date; and perhaps it is now time for some final thoughts and perspectives from a writer who has witnessed each of Team Cuba’s twenty Classic games from a front row press box seat.
For the second time in seven years Team Cuba now sits poised to pull off a World Baseball Classic “miracle run” designed once more to underscore the true quality of post-aluminum-bat and post-amateur-era island baseball. It now all comes down to one final rematch on Monday night with either the Dutch or Japanese.
If any of the top challengers for this year’s World Baseball Classic title have been taking Team Cuba lightly, they would be well advised to start seriously reassessing the picture.
It is important to emphasize how vital the opening game with Brazil actually is for the Cubans. If the Red Machine harbors any hopes of reaching the second round in Tokyo they simply cannot afford an early setback against a pitching-rich but offensively challenged Brazilian squad managed by big league hall of famer Barry Larkin.
Cuba’s preliminary roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic checked into Havana’s Hotel Tulipan on Monday morning and immediately began extensive training in the Latin American Stadium under the guidance of team manager Victor Mesa.