Cuba's passion is O's pain, 12-6

Inspired visitors leg out 18 hits, outhustle Orioles in runaway

O's hitless in middle 6 2/3

HR dance, 5-run 9th cap Cuban celebration

Cubans At Camden Yards

May 04, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The outcome long decided, Cuban designated hitter Andy Morales provided the night its lasting image. His three-run homer not only finished Cuba's five-run ninth inning, but also provided him the chance to hug the sky, tiptoe over three bases and jump atop home plate.

A day at work for the Orioles became a labor of love last night to a Cuban all-star team before 47,940 at Camden Yards. The Cubans displayed their irrepressible talents as shortstop Danel Castro pounded four hits, including a pair of leggy triples, and sidearming reliever Norge Vera threw 6 2/3 innings of hitless relief before allowing a harmless ninth-inning rally.

Whatever spin the Orioles might apply, the Cubans turned their 12-6 victory into nothing short of a national festival.

"We'll have a national party right now," third baseman Omar Linares said.

The Orioles might say it was nothing more than a meaningless exhibition. The Cubans return to Havana today with powerful evidence that their game carries serious meaning.

Cuba outhit the Orioles, 18-6, committed two fewer errors and vastly outhustled an opponent who played the game with one eye on the clock. Morales' home run and dance illustrated the night's different perspectives. "I've seen it before. That's how they play," said left fielder B. J. Surhoff. "It's not exactly our style. I don't think anybody appreciates the guy running around like an idiot. But what are you going to do? They were excited to win."

At the end, the Cubans burst from their dugout carrying a national flag and waving their adjustable red caps to the appreciative remnants of a crowd. The Orioles trudged away, but most quickly returned for handshakes. Outfielder Albert Belle took a pass after an uninterested outing.

Manager Ray Miller used the game as a rehab assignment for starting pitcher Scott Kamieniecki and a showcase for nervous first base prospect Calvin Pickering. Kamieniecki delivered four outs, Pickering committed three errors worth two unearned runs.

Not to be undercut, a Cuban representative stated during a morning news conference that many of his country's best players were left behind to prepare for the Pan American Games.

Thank you, Fidel.

Whatever the game lacked in suspense, it compensated for with political intrigue. The game was briefly interrupted during the fourth inning as four fans chose to make political statements by running onto the field. One waved a flag, another carried a sign and a third wore a shirt proclaiming, Free Cuba!

An already tense situation became ugly in the fifth inning when a fifth protester prompted his own "people-to-people exchange" with second base umpire Cesar Valdez. One of three Cuban umpires assigned to the game, Valdez body-slammed the anti-Castro protester before security arrived.

By then Valdez and Surhoff were involved in a confrontation. "He wanted to go back and hit the guy some more and I was trying to not let that happen," Surhoff said.

A Cuban official later referred to the incident as "a bad way of reacting" but quoted Valdez as saying, "Above all, I am Cuban and I don't have any reason for accepting such a lack of respect. I did that because that was the right way to handle it."

Linares said the incident "didn't affect us at all this lack of respect by the spectators. The one worried by this should be the organizers. None of this happens in Cuba. They must feel ashamed."

At least the boisterous Cuban entourage brought some energy to a place recently afflicted with fatalism and apathy. For a night, the ring of cell phones was replaced by the shrill staccato of whistle-blowers bouncing behind the third base dugout. Originally, stadium workers cordoned off the area designated for the Cuban delegation with yellow police tape. The impolitic gaffe was rectified before the visitors arrived. Seems they wanted more tickets.

The Orioles did everything possible to show themselves as compliant hosts. Majority owner Peter Angelos banned representatives of the Immigration and Naturalization Service from the ballpark, interpreting their presence as a temptation for possible defectors. Americanos were expressly prohibited from importing flags into the stadium. Cubanos jubilantly waved their national banner between innings, during pitching changes and after every positive play -- which was often.

And then there was Kamieniecki, the designated fall guy.

A strained hamstring suffered March 19 had landed Kamieniecki on the disabled list, preventing him from facing anyone aside from minor-league hitters.

Kamieniecki sounded less than enthusiastic about his recovery a week ago and backed it up with last night's 1 1/3-inning outing.

In addition to five hits and three walks, his appearance was interrupted by a 56-minute rain delay and his constant attempts to adjust to a sanded mound.

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