Following a 4-RBI outing from Carlos Perez, Venezuela capitalized on Cuban miscues and made defensive plays to earn their first win of the qualifiers 6-5.
By Bryan Jardines
On this opening day of the qualifying round for the Tokyo Olympics, game one between Cuba and Venezuela set the tone for what should be an intense week of competition. Carlos Perez set off the scoring with a three-run home run in the top of the first, followed by an RBI single in the top of the third. Venezuelan pitcher Anibal Sanchez found himself in some early trouble in the first, but was able to tread water in his performance, allowing three runs over four innings.
Cuba’s bats awoke in the bottom of the fourth following a two-run homerun from Erisbel Arruebarruena and an RBI double from Yadir Mujica in the fifth inning. The story of the game for Cuba lies with its inability to score runs, leaving eight runners on base. The team found themselves grounding into double plays twice with runners in scoring position.
Hernan Perez and Robinson Chirinos carried Venezuela down the stretch as the pair also tallied home runs in the sixth and eighth innings respectively. These insurance runs proved to be useful as Cuba came roaring back in the deciding innings.
Pinch hitter Lisban Correa hit a titanic two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth to cut the lead down to one, putting the pressure on closer Moises Gomez to close the game out. Yordanis Samon then salvaged his at-bat to manage a two-out walk.
In unique fashion, Alfredo Despaigne was pulled from the game following a 2-2 count as he aggravated his shoulder on a hard swing. Despaigne had to be replaced by Rafael Viñales, who grounded into a force out to end the game.
After the tough loss, Cuba must regroup and face Canada tomorrow in Port St. Lucie, while Venezuela awaits Colombia in what is slated to be an exciting second day of action.
Apart from the game, Cuban fans showed out in political fashion, demanding governmental change and bellowing chants for Libertad (liberty). The tensions reached its peak when a fan rushed the field with a poster saying “Free Cuba” depicting a shackled arm. The fan was apprehended by officials and was ejected from the game.
The protests are overshadowed by the defection of Cesar Prieto this week, as the second baseman fled his hotel upon arrival.