What many thought it would happen, due to what was seen in the previous four games, happened. The Cuban baseball team defeated on Sunday the US Collegiate squad with a tight score 1-0 in the fifth and final game of the friendly match, and thus returned last year´s sweep.
The win was secured by good pitching performances of right-handed Yaisel Sierra and Vladimir Gutierrez, whose combined efforts allowed that the only Cuban run was enough for a victory in the closest game during this year’s match.
Everybody thought Cuba would repeat in the mound with Camagüey Norge Luis Ruiz, winner of the first match. However, a blister on Ruiz´s throwing hand, who only had four days off and maybe because it was Urquiola’s decision to test all his squad members, especially since the match was already secured, determined that the Yaisel Sierra would be the starter, made us forget the best pitcher in the staff.
Sierra knew how to deal with his brief moments of losing control and the two walks went unnoticed against seven strikeouts in five innings of action. The four hits he gave up, three of them in the top of the fourth inning, the best time of the U.S. team at bat, were not enough for his rivals to score; which was also prevented by an effective Roel Santos throw from right field, which killed at home the only possible American run.
A third to complete six innings and 97 pitches, he had to go out due to discomfort in his throwing hand, so he gave the mound to Pinar del Rio Vladimir Gutierrez. The Rookie of the Year was no less; he pitched three innings in which he only allowed a single, with two walks and struck out three.
But visitors also had good performances. The mentor Dave van Horn had reserved for the last match his best weapon: the right-handed Kyle Funkhouser. With 97 mile per hour fastballs, sliders near 85and a dazzling control Funkhouser struck out eight Cuban batters and remained a mystery until the bottom of the sixth inning.
In that inning, he struck out Frank Camilo Morejon and then second baseman David Castillo, singled for the second time in the day, the only who could do it. With first base occupied, the right-hander dominated Roel Santos in a fly out to center field, but Guillermo Heredia managed to gain a walk and now with men on first and second, and obvious signs of tiredness, van Horn did not want to take any risk and replaced him by lefty AJ Minter to face Yadiel Hernandez.
The Cuban did not believe that idea of southpaw vs. southpaw and singled to left field to bring in Castillo second. Minter then got the third out and he and the closer Dillon Tate, who show fastballs at 98 miles, did not allow the difference in the score be extended dominating the Cubans at ease in the rest of the game. But their good pitching was not backed by the offense, as in the previous four games.
In general, this year’s match showed two teams with good pitching staffs. On the U.S. side was disappointing and decisive in the results, the 12 defensive errors and poor offensive; factors that hinder the work of the best pitchers. For Cuba it was demonstrated, although it has been forced by the inclusion via INDER or not, of their best players in foreign leagues, it is not necessary to form national teams with players of higher quality to meet any commitment, and that those who have good performances in National Series are able to do so in other levels and deserve opportunities.
In fact, although it had not sluggers, Cuba played this with a harmony and showed teamwork that it was not appreciated for a long time in a national team. Maybe it was magic talisman of Urquiola, or maybe it was that these players and their director, indirectly, intended to prove something not often in our ball: results and performance sometimes are worth more than names and history.