Cuba holds on to beat Puerto Rico, advance to semis

Updated: March 16, 2006, 3:03 AM ET
Associated Press

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The Cuban relay was perfect and Ivan Rodriguez was cut down at the plate _ and now Cuba is safely into the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic.

Yulieski Gourriel threw out the potential tying run at the plate in the seventh inning and the Cubans held on for a 4-3 victory Wednesday night over Puerto Rico.

Ormari Romero allowed one run in four innings for Cuba (2-1), which will play the Dominican Republic in the single-elimination semifinal game on Saturday in San Diego.

"This team is the world champion and the Olympic champion. We didn't get that for free," Cuba manager Higinio Velez said.

In the first round of the WBC, Puerto Rico beat Cuba 12-2 in a game stopped by the mercy rule after seven innings. But in a game that was win or go home, the Cubans got revenge in front of a raucous Puerto Rican crowd, despite having two close umpires' calls go against them late in the game.

"They have a lot of good players that any team in the United States would be happy to add to their rosters," said Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo, who is also the third base coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cuba was up 4-1 when Puerto Rico rallied in the seventh.

With runners at the corners and no out, pinch hitter Ricky Ledee hit a grounder to second baseman Gourriel, who tried to turn a double play. But Gourriel's throw pulled shortstop Eduardo Paret off the bag and Cuba managed to get only one out while giving up a run.

Velez was ejected for arguing the call with second base umpire James Hoye. Replays appeared to show Paret just barely off the base.

After Bernie Williams, who homered in the first inning, hit into double play to leave a runner at third and two outs, Rodriguez walked.

Carlos Beltran lined a single to center to bring in Cintron and center fielder Carlos Tabares bobbled the ball. Ramirez relayed to Gourriel and Rodriguez was thrown out at the plate trying to score the tying run from first.

"All we wanted to do was to show the quality of Cuban baseball," Gourriel said.

With the lead down to 4-3 in the eighth, Puerto Rico put runners on first and second with one out.

Jose Valentin then reached safely when pitcher Vicyohandry Odelin's throw in the dirt wasn't fielded cleanly by first baseman Joan Carlos Pedroso. It appeared on replays that Pedroso trapped the throw between his arm and his body.

Cuba argued the call to no avail and the bases were loaded. But Alex Cintron followed with an inning ending double play on a grounder to short.

Cuba scored three runs in the fourth on a hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded and a throwing error by Cintron, his third of the Classic. Cintron's wild throw allowed two runs to score and put Cuba up 4-1.

Puerto Rico left five runners in scoring position with two outs.

After the Cubans scored a run in the first without a hit, Williams leadoff with a home run to tie the game.

Romero allowed three hits and struck out three. Odelin pitched the final two innings for the save.

Puerto Rico starter Dicky Gonzalez gave up four runs, two earned, in 3 1/3 innings. He had three strikeouts and four walks.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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