Cubans Encounter Little Challenge in Venezuela

If the original promise of an inaugural Latin American and Caribbean League pre-World Cup tournament proved a major disappointment–due to the organizational ineptitude of the Venezuelan Baseball Federation–the three-team round robin that finally replaced it has not offered much to crow about either. There has so far been little in the way of thrills for Cuban fans back on the island, or even much in the way of needed stiff competition for the Cuban team preparing to snag a tenth straight World Cup crown next month in Taiwan. In its opening three days the set of one-sided Caracas "friendship" games between the host Venezuelans and visiting Colombians and Cubans have resulted in a pair of Cuban romps notable only for a six-inning three-pitcher no-hit, no-run game on Thursday evening. In that lid-lifter a trio of Cuban hurlers–Elier Sanchez (3 innings), Jonder Martinez (2) and Norberto Gonzalez (1)–whitewashed an overmatched Colombian contingent 9-0 in a game mercifully shortened to six innings. The early ending came as a result of a stadium power outage, one more minor "disaster" surrounding an event that the Venezuelans were touting only a week or two ago as a potential replacement for the springtime winter league professional Caribbean Series (which has itself lately been threatened by the collapse of the Puerto Rican winter circuit). The hitting stars for the Cubans in their opener were numerous: veteran catcher Ariel Pestano smacked a double and knocked home three runs; multiple-year Cuban League batting champion Osmani Urrutia also doubled and accounted for a pair of RBIs, while center fielder Giorvis Duvergel registered three hits in four trips to the plate, and outfield mate Yoandry Urgelles also doubled and knocked home three.

Ariel_pestano_1The one-sided loss to Cuba was the second straight for the weak-sister Colombians, who also fell rudely to host Venezuela in the Wednesday opener by a 6-1 count. Cuba was again untested in Caracas on Friday evening, when they streaked past the host nation 10-3 on the strength of a solo homer by Ariel Pestano (which tied the game at three apiece in the fifth) and an outburst of three more markers in the same frame against Venezuelan reliever Ivan Campos. Venezuela used seven pitchers before the night was over in a futile attempt to shut down the Cuban attack; the defending world champions, in turn, opened with veteran southpaw Adiel Palma (whose shaky control allowed the Venezuelans to build their early and temporary 3-2 lead) and followed with a relief corps of Yuniesky Maya, Arley Sanchez, Pedro Luis Lazo and Jose A. Garcia. Manager Rey Anglada was obviously trying to give a number of his pitchers need tune-ups during a one-sided match that didn’t require much bullpen aid. It so far seems that the Cuban fans and the Cuban national team forces would have been much better served to remain on home turf and stage more competitive tune-up games in Havana’s Latin American Stadium, perhaps featuring a showdown between the two Cuban contingents that carried the nation’s banner earlier in the summer: Cuban A managed by Anglada (winners of the gold medal in the Rio Pan American Games) and Cuba B under Victor Mesa (which a month later streaked through the competition undefeated at the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam).

After three days the hardly competitive Caracas-based round robin shows the following standings and results:

Team          Record     Runs Scored/Runs Permitted

Cuba           2-0          19 to 3

Venezuela   1-1           9 to 11

Colombia     0-2          1 to 15

Venezuela 6, Colombia 1

Cuba 9, Colombia 0 (6 innings)

Cuba 10, Venezuela 3      

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