Cuba lost its undefeated record on the final day of World Port Tournament pool play (dropping a 2-1 decision to last-place Japan) and the host Dutch rallied for a 6-5 victory over Taiwan and a place in Sunday’s championship finals. Miguel Alfredo González (Cuba’s post-season National Series MVP) and veteran Diegomar Markwell (Andruw Jones’s cousin) will square off in Sunday afternoon’s gold medal match.
But the big story of the day in the Cuban camp was yet another oddity of the type that so often mark the island sport. Cuban manager Roger Machado, attempting to conserve pitchers for the all-important finale, made a surprise pitching move on Saturday that sent Cuba League aficionados scrambling for the record books.
The surprise moment of the week came with a most unorthodox maneuver by manager Machado in the ninth inning. Not wishing to burn up any more of his pitchers on the eve of the finale and also opting not to wear down middle-relief specialist Lahera, Machado inserted Pinar del Río outfielder Jorge Padrón to work the ninth frame. Outfielders and infielders have been occasionally used on the hill at all levels of baseball by managers hoping to rest exhausted bullpens in lost games (especially where the run differential might be 15 or 20 runs). This has happened from time to time even in the majors. But it is hard to recall any bench boss anywhere who has ever asked a totally untested position player (that is, one who has never before pitched to a single batter) to debut on the mound at the crucial juncture of a ninth-inning tie game. Padrón (who batted .345 this past season and enjoyed one 6-for-6 game during National Series #48) certainly met the new challenge in grand style. The unpracticed lefty yielded a harmless single to only the second batter he faced and also walked yet another batsman, but nonetheless escaped the inning without yielding a single tally.
The ninth-inning oddity wrote yet another strange chapter in Cuba’s always colorful baseball saga. Preliminary research indicates that Padrón is the first Cuban ballplayer since the debut of National Series play back in 1962 ever to take the mound for a Cuban national team in international tournament action without having tossed a single inning in regular Cuban League domestic action. This author and several colleagues from the Cuban journalist corps are currently pouring over national team records in an effort to uncover a single similar case.