WBC Report 7: Cuban players never gave up and fought to the end

The Cuban players never gave up and fought to the end. Team Cuba salutes fans at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium after a 2006 WBC game

Team Cuba salutes fans at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium after a 2006 WBC game

By OSCAR SÁNCHEZ SERRA, Special correspondent, Granma

TOKYO.—“Only one person is responsible for the defeat, and that is me, players don’t lose games, I lose them. The coach has the maximum responsibility,” affirmed Víctor Mesa.

That is hard to say and to say so categorically, even more so when whoever knows anything about baseball – Cuban aficionados are demanding and really know the sport – could see during the close to four hours of the qualifying game for the semi-finals, that the mentor of the Cuban team directed high-quality baseball. I would venture to say that I have never seen him so great in stature.

It is easy to write about victories, but difficult to do at times such as this, but it has to be done. The team coaches, the players themselves and, above all, the Cuban people, for whom the squad gave their all, would never forgive us for not analyzing this newsworthy event, despite what head coach Víctor Mesa said. Holland defeated Cuba once again (7-6), for the fifth consecutive time, and knocked the team out of the 3rd Baseball World Classic.

The team is playing at an extremely high level and this tournament has become the Mecca of rigor. Here, one not only has to have quality, but must demonstrate it at all times, because there is no way of recovering from one slip. When you are up against professionals in this discipline, errors have no place, far less repeating them.

Given that this is the case, the Cuban players never gave up. They lost the advantage twice to subsequently take the lead, despite continuing slip-ups, but those of the ninth inning exhausted the enforced to-and-fro against unwritten baseball rules which have their price when they are not met: if you don’t notch up a potential run, it goes against you; everything you give away is taken advantage of by your opponents, or – which comes to the same thing – out is simply out, because you cannot recover.

Not even the immediate response in the fifth inning was enough. At this point, Mesa maneuvered every change with millimetre exactitude, risking the departure of three star players halfway through the game, confident in the preparation of every team member, and they did not disappoint him.

But, despite everything, it was not enough to take full advantage of the limitations of Holland, who arrived without their best pitcher, and lost three regulars due to injury, including their third and fifth bats.

It is impossible to aspire to victory in this manner. But losing must not be taken out on any of the players, this team spilled out unity; in every win, no individual names were mentioned, everyone talked of 28 heroes, and it would not be fair now to point out villains. The way in which they gave their all, the way they responded to every disadvantage, the way they were directed, does not warrant any searching look.

José Dariel Abreu | Photo Ricardo López Hevia

José Dariel Abreu | Photo Ricardo López Hevia

It was moving to see the giant José D. Abréu unable to articulate words and his eyes red; the face of 23-year-old Tomás reflecting powerlessness; an inconsolable José Miguel; Norberto González unable to understand how, with just four more outs in the game, the triumph so many times achieved escaped him. And us, as journalists as well, given that we are all part of one team, with a lump in our throats, which the mentor himself freed with an embrace and the phrase, “I’m sorry.”

It hurts, because baseball runs through our veins, is part of our national identity; because the training showed its excellence, while dispatching us without reaching the finals with a team that batted the most, scored the most homeruns and came third in pitching. And it hurts because there was potential for much more. Those are the emotions of the sport; what the players couldn’t have forgiven themselves for was not fighting, as did Yulieski, who every time he committed an error, followed it up with a homerun; or Tomás who, in two strikes, pulled off the two runs batted in; or Abréu, who had batted for double play three times in the previous game against Holland, and in this tense second one hit the first equalizer with a homerun via the centerfield; or the gesture of Vladimir García, who asked Mesa for the ball to take charge of the situation.

Víctor Mesa said to us that it was a sad day for Cuba, and it was, as was also his dignified assumption of responsibility and the shame our baseball players felt in the name of their people.

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