Cuba ends baseball quest in 11-1 style


BARCELONA, Spain -- The Cubans in the section by the first-base line kept banging the drums. They danced, smoked cigars and drenched each other with beer. Several Cuban players showered each other with champagne on the pitcher's mound while others carried the Cuban flag around the stadium.

It was party time Cuban style at L'Hospitalet Stadium last night.

Cuba had won 71 of its previous 72 games, but none of the victories was like the 11-1 win over Taiwan last night.

It gave the Cubans the first gold medal ever awarded for baseball and was a source of a lot of pride.

"Baseball is our national sport," said Cuba coach Jorge Fuentes. "You come to Cuba, and all you see is little

guys trying to play baseball. It's a way of life. This is a highlight for Cuba. It's like Brazil winning in soccer. It's a culmination of many years."

It was so evident against Taiwan.

The veteran Cuban team had 18 hits, including home runs from Lazaro Vargas, Orestes Kindelan and Alberto Hernandez.

Giorge Diaz, a 6-foot-2 right-hander, gave up only four hits.

"I think we were in control the entire game," Fuentes said. "We got up early and played our style. Our pitcher controlled the tempo, and our offense kept the pressure on."

The Cuban machine never stops, but it could slow down by the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

The Cubans built this team to peak in 1992 with the nucleus being formed during the 1987 Pan American Games.

Five members of the team are in their 30s.

"We may be a little green when

we get to Atlanta, but the structure is in place in Cuba," Fuentes said. "We may lose three or four players, but we will continue to be strong."

Diaz, 21, is one of those talented young players. He struck out eight and walked one last night.

He backed Taiwan players off the plate with his fastball, then worked low and outside with the curve.

"He was very masterful," Taiwan coach Lai-Fa Lee said. "In the last couple of games, we have had the dominant pitching. This time, he was totally in control."

Cuba set the tone early on a sacrifice fly by Antonio Pacheco and a bases-empty home run by Kindelan in the first inning.

Vargas homered to open the third, and Kindelan had another sacrifice fly to put Cuba up 4-0.

"Playing a team like Cuba, it is important that you get out early to take away their running game, and gain some confidence," said Lai. "We did not achieve either one."

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