By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 10 – Cuba opened its play in the World Cup Baseball Tournament with a 10-0 shutout of Puerto Rico on Thursday in Barcelona. Norge Luis Vera pitched a three-hitter and Alfredo Despaigne drove in five runs to lead the charge.
The Cubans jumped on Puerto Rican veteran Jose Santiago for five runs in the first three innings including and RBI double by Yulieski Gourriel in the first and a homer by first baseman Jose Abreu to lead off the second.
Alfredo Despaigne -who led the Cuban league this past season in four-baggers- had a two run homer in the third and came back with a three-run double in the fourth off reliever Angel Garcia to put the game out of reach.
Meanwhile, Vera cruised throughout walking one and striking out eight while throwing only 88 pitches in the game called after seven innings on the 10-run mercy rule.
Puerto Rico’s only hits were a double in the third, and two singles in the sixth when Vera pitched out of a jam with runners on second and third with two out, fanning Puerto Rico’s designated hitter Raul Casanova.
Other highlights for the Cuban team were two runs scored and two RBIs from team captain and clean-up hitter Frederich Cepeda, while Yulieski Gourriel scored three runs and drove in two.
Cuba’s next game is at 11:00 am (5:00 am EST) on Friday against South Africa. Puerto Rico plays Spain – which pounded South Africa 15-0 on Wednesday – at 12 noon EST.
In other games on Friday, In Group D, Venezuela pulled off a big upset over the United States, the defending World Cup champs. Drimo Chavez hit a grand slam in the 11th inning to end the slugfest with the score 13-9.
Japan, fresh off winning the World Baseball Classic last March, had a surprisingly hard time with Great Britain, better known for its cricket than baseball. Ahead 9-2 after 8.5 innings, the British team scored five runs on five hits in the bottom of the ninth to get within two before running out of gas.
The World Cup Baseball tournament is being played in seven countries across Europe through September 27th. Cuba, runner up in 2007, is in Group B.