Andy Morales flailed his arms, leaping around the bases in celebration of his ninth inning, three-run homer. Danel Castro sprinted out two triples, pumping his fist to the Cuban fans behind the third-base dugout after his first hit.
So try telling the Cuban players that last night's 12-6 win over the Orioles was merely an exhibition.
"As we are used to," said third baseman Omar Linares through an interpreter, "we are having a national party right now."
The Cubans offset a lack of power with hustle, running out three infield hits. Castro by himself came within one of the Orioles' triple total this season, legging out two into the gaps.
As the game ended, the Cubans sprang out of the dugout, draping flags around themselves and waving their caps to the fans. Only one Cuba player showed up for the post-game news conference because "the players wanted to begin celebrating back at the hotel," a Cuban spokesman said.
"It was very apparent that they wanted it much more than we did on an individual basis," Orioles manager Ray Miller said. "The enthusiasm they showed, my hat's off to [the Cubans]."
Then there was Norge Vera, a lanky 27-year-old right-hander with an assortment of breaking pitches. He retired 20 of 22 batters before tiring in the ninth, when he gave a three-run homer to Delino DeShields.
Vera relied on mostly his curveball and fastball, keeping the ball low and hitting both corners.
From the second inning through the eighth, Vera no-hit the Orioles, facing only one batter over the minimum during that span. In two at-bats against Vera, Belle struck out looking both times.
Vera was 10-9 with a 2.26 ERA in 24 games this season in Cuba.
"I shook hands with him out on the field," Miller said. "He's a big, tall kid who has a live arm, threw hard and changed speeds. He threw strikes and kept the ball out of the middle of the plate."
But the game was capped by Morales, who tagged an 0-1 pitch by Gabe Molina over the right center-field fence in the ninth.
Throwing his arms into the air throughout his exuberant trip around the bases, an animated Morales jumped into the crowd of teammates waiting for him at home plate. He hit 17 home runs in 322 at-bats in Cuba this year.
"The victory has great meaning, not just for me, but for all the players and all the Cuban people," Linares said. "We just tied the series between the Orioles and Cuba. We know we can win or lose anytime against them."
So would the Cubans be willing to play a third game to break the 1-1 series tie with the Orioles?
"We are willing to do it," Linares said, "but you would have to ask the Orioles."
Pub Date: 5/04/99