Cuba Loses to U.S. in Baseball World Cup Final
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- 09 / 28 / 2009
"Other than playing in a World Series, this is as big as it gets," said May, a Los Angeles Dodgers prospect who went 2 for 4. "It feels good to wear a gold medal."
The U.S. team, consisting entirely of Triple-A and Double-A players, finished with 14 straight wins after opening the competition with a loss to Venezuela.
"It was a difficult loss and the players took it to heart and we just regrouped and did some different things and everything else is obviously indicative," U.S. manager Eddie Rodriguez said. "They persevered through a lot of things. We had some rigorous travel and they just came together."
The Americans also beat the Cubans in the 2007 final, snapping their run of nine consecutive titles.
The U.S. set up the victory by rallying for six runs off three Cuban pitchers to snap a 4-4 in the seventh inning.
U.S. starter Cory Luebke struck out seven and walked none over 4 1-3 innings and Brad Lincoln (3-0) pitched the next 4 1-3 innings for the win. He gave up six hits, striking out two and walking one.
Nate Field came on in the ninth inning after the Cubans loaded the bases with two outs. He earned the save by getting Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne to pop out to deep left.
The U.S. players jumped on top of each other and unfurled a giant American flag to celebrate in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,000 at the Steno Borghese stadium.
U.S. first baseman Justin Smoak, a Texas Rangers prospect, led the U.S. with nine home runs and 22 RBIs to earn the tournament's MVP award.
Cuban starter Norge Vera (3-1) struck out eight and walked one through 6 2-3 innings.
Despaigne went 3 for 5 and added to his tournament record with his 11th homer of the tournament — a solo shot in the eighth inning.
May homered in the second inning to put the U.S. up 3-0.
"I knew he had a good sinker and he wants to get a double play right there so I was cheating for a first-pitch fastball and luckily it was in the spot I was looking for," May said. "It was a pretty good swing and it went out."
Cuba responded in the bottom of the fourth, scoring two runs with three consecutive singles.
The Americans' No. 9 hitter, second baseman Tug Hulett, hit a solo homer to right in the fifth, but Ariel Borrero had a two-run homer for Cuba in the sixth to tie it at 4-4.
Vera got in trouble in the seventh and Cuba made a surprising move by bringing in closer Pedro Lazo with the bases loaded.
Lazo allowed three runs without getting an out and Miguel Gonzalez gave up another run before Freddy Alvarez finally retired the side.
The United States had also beaten Cuba 5-3 in the third round Thursday.
Rodriguez predicted that many of his players, including May, will make the jump to the big leagues "in a year or two.".
"Lucas is a fine catcher," the manager said. "He's only been catching three years He's a converted third baseman and he can swing the bat."
Cuba also settled for silver at last year's Beijing Olympics, losing the final to South Korea, and it didn't get past the second round at this year's World Baseball Classic.
Baseball officials decided last year to move the 22-team tournament from Cuba and stage it across seven European countries in an effort to make the sport more visible to International Olympic Committee members.
That went for naught when the IOC's executive board decided last month against reinstating baseball for the 2016 Summer Games. Instead, the IOC is recommending golf and rugby sevens at its meetings in Copenhagen beginning this week.