HAVANA (AP) -- The ball snapped into Will Clark's glove for the final out
and the pumped-up Cuban crowd knew exactly what it meant.
Juego completado. Game over.
Cuba's president and No. 1 baseball fan, Fidel Castro, shrugged his broad
shoulders ever so slightly, raised his arms in an "oh well" gesture and turned
Time to shake hands.
The Cuban all-star team didn't beat the Orioles on Sunday, but they sure
came close -- losing 3-2 in 11 innings but proving again they have some of
the best players in the world.
Harold Baines, only 6 days old when major league teams last played in
Cuba in 1959, singled in the tiebreaking run in the 11th inning after Baltimore
wasted a 2-0 lead.
"The main thing is that this was a good show," Cuban manager Alfonso
Urquiola said. "We have the respect of the Orioles."
Tame by Cuban standards for six innings, the specially selected 50,000
yelled and shouted as the Cubans rallied to tie the game in the eighth. Even
without benefit of the customary drums or bells, the fans made enough noise
to shake the glass window in the tiny press box.
"It was exciting to see how excited all the people were," Baltimore starter
Scott Erickson said.
Many of the Orioles insisted for weeks that this was just another exhibition
game leading up to the season opener on April 5. It took a while for them to
realize that it was, in fact, a big deal.
"Even fans who don't follow baseball are curious about this game," center
fielder Brady Anderson said, casting an eye around the packed stadium.
"Anytime you play a game like this, you remember it."
Few in the crowd will ever forget it.
Sure they were disappointed after Orioles backup second baseman Jesse
Garcia made his second straight nice pickup of a grounder to end the game.
But the players at Estadio Latinamericano did a lot better than many
Americans expected, outhitting the Orioles 10-6.
"I'm not sure I see enough power," Orioles manager Ray Miller said, "but
certainly see enough pitching."
Jose Contreras, the most sparkling of several Cubans who showed they
could compete at a major league level, allowed two hits in eight shutout
innings and struck out 10. Twice he fanned Albert Belle, who went 0-for-5
after drawing oohs and aahs during batting practice by sending several balls
deep into the seats.
Baltimore took a 2-0 lead on Charles Johnson's two-run homer in the
second, but Roberquis Videaux hit an RBI single in the seventh and Omar
Linares, Cuba's most renowned player, singled in the tying run in the eighth.
These teams are literally from two different worlds.
The Orioles have a projected payroll of about $80 million; the Cubans are
amateurs who earn an average of $10 a month.
But, as Erickson noted, "Once we walked on the field it was basically a
baseball game between two teams."
Castro, wearing olive military fatigues, watched from the first row behind
plate, sitting between baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Orioles owner
Peter Angelos, who first broached the idea of the game three years ago.
Major league teams once visited Cuba regularly, but this was the first
since the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds played on March 21,
1959, about 2 1/2 months after Castro's revolution ousted dictator
Fulgencio Batista on New Year's Day.
This exhibition -- agreed upon after the Clinton administration decided
January to ease the four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo against communist
Cuba -- ended the seemingly indefinite baseball disassociation between two
countries that consider the game its national pastime.
There will be a rematch in Baltimore on May 3, and perhaps the Cubans will
fare better with the addition of players who missed this exhibition because of
their involvement in the country's playoffs.
This time, however, the Cubans barely came up short when Baines'
two-single single off Pedro Lazo scored Will Clark, who doubled with one
Jesse Orosco then preserved the lead in the bottom half after allowing
Chapelli's one-out single. Mike Fetters got the win, pitching a scoreless
Cuba threatened in the first but was thwarted by Baltimore's defense. Luis
Ulacia was thrown out by Belle trying to stretch a single to right, and Jose
Estrado was cut down at the plate trying to score on an infield grounder.
Baltimore went up 2-0 in the second when B.J. Surhoff got a leadoff single
and Johnson drove a pitch from Jose Ibar over the left-field wall. Ibar, who
went 18-2 this season, was given the quick hook after hitting Anderson with
a pitch opening the third.
The refurbished stadium, like Camden Yards, offers a panoramic view of
city beyond the outfield bleachers. Some fans beat the invitation-only
requirement by watching the game from a couple of apartment buildings
behind left field.
Notes: Baltimore third baseman Cal Ripken missed the game due to the
death of his father Thursday. The Orioles are wearing "7" on uniform
shoulders to honor Ripken Sr. ... The teams used Cuban baseballs, which
are softer and smaller than Rawlings balls used in the majors. ... The Cubans
recently switched back to wood bats after using metal for many years. With
a rule change allowing U.S. professionals, the Olympics are switching to
wood, too. ... The umpires were all Cubans. AL umpires refused to make
Copyright 1999 Associated Press.