It is a record unsurpassed and not even reasonably approached in the entire history of team sports–professional, amateur, collegiate, scholastic, youth league, men’s or women’s, or any format imaginable. The Cuban national baseball team, in its many different editions over the past half-century, has now gained the championship, or at least reached the deciding gold medal game, in every major international tournament it has entered since 1959, a string that now includes 48 straight events. (If the survival of Fidel Castro for a half-century has bordered on miraculous, how about the invincibility of the Cuban baseball squad over the same couple of human generations!) Yes, forty-eight straight tournaments either won–or at the worst barely lost, with an appearaqnce in the final championship game. An international baseball championship at the highest level over the past full 50 summers and autumns without Cuba in the final championship game has been equally as rare as a major league World Series without the Chicago Cubs sitting helplessly home on the sidelines.
Just how remarkable Team Cuba’s streak is can be summarized in the following data. The string now includes the grand sum of 43 gold medal victories. The only final game losses occurred in the 2006 World Baseball Classic (to Japan), the 1967 Pan American Games (USA), the 1997 Intercontinental Cup (Japan), the 1981 Intercontinental Cup (USA) and the 2000 Sydney Olympics (again to the USA). Over the mind-boggling stretch the Cubans have captured 11 Pan American Games titles, 11 Intercontinental Cup crowns, three Olympic banners, and 18 World Cups (aka, the Amateur World Series before 1988). In the Pan American Games alone the tally now runs to ten straight titles (back to 1971) in which the Cubans have won a total of 74 individual ball games while dropping a mere five contests. This has been done, recall, in a sport where a .600 winning percentage usually means a championship celebration while a .700-plus winning percentage unquestionnably stretches credibility. Write a Hollywood film script version of this runaway Cuban success story and I guarantee you could never sell it to agent or producer as convincing or even passingly believable.
Today’s 3-1 title win over a scrappy team of USA collegiate all-stars and future major leaguers came in most traditional fashion for the current version of the Cuban juggernaut. Ironically it also duplicated exactly the 3-1 victory of Cuban ace Norge Vera over USA prospect Jered Weaver in this event four years back in Santo Domingo. With their vaunted offensive held in check for most of the tournament, Cuba relied on solid pitching once again as veteran southpaw Adiel Palma (earlier winner over Mexico) wove his second masterpiece of the week, scattering four hits and allowing a single tally across 7.2 solid innings. Pedro Luis Lazo closed down the predominantly left-swinging American lineup in the ninth for this third straight flawless mop-up effort. The Cubans banged out 10 hits with the biggest being a third-inning game-deciding two-run double by slugging first sacker Alexander Mayeta. Freddie Cepeda, whose bat was silent all week, provided the key defensive play with a brilliant running catch to end the seventh. And .370-career hitter Osmani Urrutia awoke from a week-long slump to pound out four straight hits and end the tournament with a .417 average. It seems that whatever brief rough spots he might encounter, Urrutia would likely hit somewhere around the .400 plateau no matter what the playing venue–Las Tunas, Pinar del Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Wrigley Field, or perhaps even the planet Mars. The Cubans once more proved in Rio this week that they almost never beat themselves. Although highly critical Cuban fans back home (and what do we expect in a land where continual winning on the diamond is almost a foregone conclusion) complained all week about the dearth of Cuban hitting, this team in the end was as dominant as almost any Big Red Machine edition before it. The Cuban defense didn’t commit a single error, its pitching never allowed more than a single run in any frame except the fifth-inning fiasco against Panama, and the confident Cubans played with the lead through every game but the first. It was indeed a winning combination. And it is indeed an ongoing Cuban baseball tradition.