Cuba capitalizes on miscues to stun Venezuela

Updated: March 13, 2006, 2:50 AM ET
Associated Press


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Cuba proved its point that it could hold its own against teams with major league star power.

Ten-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel missed a double play opportunity and gave up an additional out on a fielder's choice, and Cuba capitalized with a five-run sixth inning in a 7-2 victory over Venezuela on Sunday in the second round of the World Baseball Classic.

Eduardo Paret
Al Bello/Getty ImagesCuban shortstop Eduardo Paret scored two of Cuba's seven runs.

Frederich Cepeda hit a three-run homer and Ariel Pestano followed with a solo shot as the underdog Cubans broke out after Johan Santana departed.

"Both teams played great baseball," Cuban manager Higinio Velez said. "Two days ago we told everyone to wait patiently for today's game. ... This is what Cuban baseball is all about. Our players wanted to come back strong after losing in a mercy rule game and they came through."

The Cubans were routed by Puerto Rico 12-2 in their final game of the first round, but had already clinched a berth in this round along with the powerful Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

With Cuba ahead 1-0, right-hander Giovanni Carrara replaced Santana, the Minnesota Twins ace who threw 67 pitches, 13 short of the 80-pitch limit for this round.

Leadoff hitter Eduardo Paret sparked the rally with a four-pitch walk and a stolen base, his second of the tournament. Michel Enriquez rolled a single over second base to score the speedy Paret, and Yulieski Gourriel popped out to left for the first out.

Designated hitter Osmani Urrutia hit a grounder to the left of Vizquel, who was unable to step on second before Enriquez reached safely, and it was too late to throw out the runner at first.

Carrara got a groundball to second from Yoandri Garlobo that looked like an inning-ending double play. Second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo tossed the ball to Vizquel for the first out, but the crafty shortstop could not get a grip on the ball to throw to first, and Cepeda followed with his three-run drive.

"Clutch hitting has been the missing ingredient for us," Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said. "The Cubans are very good fastball hitters and they showed they were ready whenever they got that pitch."

Venezuela scored its only two runs in the seventh on Endy Chavez's home run to right with Alfonzo on second.

Cuba took an early 1-0 lead in the second. Designated hitter Yoandri Garlobo doubled down the first-base line, moved to third on a grounder to short by Pestano, and scored on Ariel Borrero's single to left field.

Detroit Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez got Venezuela's first hit of the game in the fifth with a liner to left. Pedro Lazo replaced starter Yadel Marti after Ramon Hernandez singled to center. Lazo bobbled Alfonzo's grounder to load the bases with no outs.

But Chavez and Vizquel hit fly balls that were too shallow to score the slow Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen struck out swinging on a 97 mph pitch.

Venezuela's chance to move on to the semifinals will hang the shoulders of a pair of Chicago starters, hard-throwing Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs and White Sox veteran Freddy Garcia.

Zambrano will pitch for Venezuela against Puerto Rico on Monday, and Cuba meets the Dominican Republic.

"We have Carlos on the mound tomorrow and Freddy comes next, and we'll have to work hard to get to San Diego," Sojo said.

Santana, the unanimous American League Cy Young award winner in 2004, struck out five in five innings and gave up two hits and one earned run.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press