Cuban showboats cruise past Americans in baseball, 6-1

August 05, 1992|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain -- The Dream Team may lose before Cuba's baseball team.

The Cubans are that good, and that arrogant. Good as in winning 71 of their last 72 games in seven international tournaments. Arrogant as in showboating around the infield after home runs.

It was showtime again for the Cubans last night as they defeated the United States, 6-1, in a medal-round semifinal game.

The United States will meet Japan today in the bronze-medal game. Cuba will play Taiwan for the gold.

"They played about a perfect game," said Ron Fraser, the U.S. coach, whose team dropped its second game to Cuba in less than a week. "I thought we played pretty well, too. Usually, when Cuba plays a perfect game, you lose 16-1 or 20-1."

The rest of the U.S. players seemed to feel the same way. No heads were bowed. No one cried.

The worst team got crushed.

"We were in it for a little while, but once they get cranking, it's hard to stop them," said Jason Giambi, the U.S. first baseman. "This team has amateur status with major-league players."

Shhh.

Cuban players can't talk about playing in the major leagues. Cuban President Fidel Castro has told them so.

Let the Americans do the talking.

"I haven't seen an arm like Omar Ajete's in college, and if I did, I'd have him investigated," Fraser said of Cuba's relief ace.

Ajete came in during one of the few American rallies yesterday. The United States had just closed to within 2-1 on a double by Chad McConnell in the sixth inning. Ajete, a left-hander with a 94-mph fastball and a nasty slider, entered the game with two outs and runners on second and third.

He struck out Phil Nevin to end the inning. He struck out five more before the game ended. He allowed only two hits.

"I hope I don't have to face him again," said Nevin.

Cuban starter Osvaldo Fernandez also was effective, allowing only five hits in 5 2/3 innings.

And there are other Cuban players with possible pro potential such as shortstop German Mesa, third baseman Omar Linares and center fielder Victor Mesa.

Victor Mesa was 2-for-4 with four RBI. He had a two-run homer in the sixth to give Cuba a 4-1 lead. He also had a two-run single in the ninth.

Linares was 3-for-3, and German Mesa was 2-for-2 with one RBI.

It was suggested last night that the Cubans need to play an American Dream Team from the major leagues.

"I think amateur and pro are very different," said Cuban manager Jorge Fuentes. "But I'd like to play a major-league team to see what the comparison is."

"I'd like to see it one time, just to knock them back to earth," said U.S. right-hander Rick Helling, who failed again to ground Cuba's powerful offense. "I'd like to see them bat against Roger Clemens and have Jose Canseco hit shots off them.

"I'd like to see somebody beat them up once. Nobody in the world can beat them now."

The Cubans might have major-league talent, but some of their antics were considered bush by the Americans.

After Victor Mesa hit the home run, he ran around the field with his arms open as if he were encouraging everyone to stand and applaud. Orestes Kindelan hit a home run in the first inning, and then did a little stutter step before he touched home plate.

There was more.

Designated hitter Lazaro Vargas growled at Helling for throwing a fastball under his chin. Cuban players love to pose, taking extra swings before they step into the batter's box.

The United States seems to bring out the best and the worst from the Cuban team.

"We play so well against them because they are our main competitors," said Ajete.

Said Fraser: "I've been playing against Victor Mesa for a long time, and his nickname is El Logo. They love to beat us because they aren't allowed to play in our major leagues. They love Victor Mesa in Cuba. They beat the drum louder when he does that kind of stuff. The thing is that he backs it up, too."

The entire team does. Cuba hasn't lost an international tournament contest since the 1987 Pan American Games. That's when the nucleus of this team was formed. The average age is 27.

"The only way you're going to beat them is to catch them on an off day and play the best you can play," said Fraser.

As for the United States, this team is a collection of college players, most of them top draft choices.

"Minor-league ball is going to be a joke compared to this," Helling said. "I can't see myself getting hit by a minor-league team like that.

"I thought I'd never say it, but those guys are better than we are," Helling said.

The United States was expected to at least earn a bronze in the 1992 Games, but even that seems unlikely against a Japan team that beat the United States, 7-1, Monday night.

"We're not going into tomorrow's game with the burden of a country on our shoulders," said Jeffrey Hammonds, the U.S. center fielder and an Orioles signee. "We're going to get a good night's sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow, and it's a new day.

"We're going to come here and try to win a game and a bronze medal."

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