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03/08/2006 Archived Entry: "World Baseball Classic: Cuba fends off Panama in thriller!"

World Baseball Classic: Cuba fends off Panama in thriller!
by Craig Tomarkin

Did you see this game or are you relying on the write-up? What a thriller!

Panama lost a heart breaker to Puerto Rico, so their backs were up against it at 0-1. This was Cuba's first game, so there was a lot of anticipation about what they would be like.

Panama scored first and continued to lead 4-2 entering the seventh inning behind 5 strong innings from starter Bruce Chen. Their bullpen didn't do as well. The lead slipped away to 4-4 after 7. Then Panama's closer, Acosta allowed a 2-run dinger to Cuba's secondbaseman, Gourriel in the top of the 9th to give Cuba a 6-4 lead.

Cuba could not close it out though as Panama scored 2 in the bottom of the 9th to force extra innings at 6-6.

The tention built as neither team scored in the 10th. Finally,Cuba scored 2 in the top of the 11th and Panama was not able to pull a rabbit out of the hat again. Cuba won 8-6.

Cuba's manager played it incredibly safe thoughout the game, possibly hurting the team - bunting in early innings, playing his infield deep and guarding the lines at inappropriate times. As one announcer pointed out, they were playing not to lose rather than to win. And, they were not rewarded when they tried to be a little aggressive going 0-2 in SB attemps.

This was contrasted to Panama's manager, who was much more aggressive overall. For example, in the bottom of the 6th, down 2-1 with men on first and second and no outs he chose to have Ruben Rivera swing away instead of playing it safe and bunting the guys over to increase the likelihood of tying the game or taking a one run lead. The gamble paid off and Rivera delivered a 3-run homer to take the lead.

Despite a gutty performance, Cuba did not appear as dominating as the hype. It'll be interesting to see how they do against the stronger Puerto Rican team they face on Friday. That game will likey determine the pecking order entering the next round.

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