THE 1987 PAN AMERICAN GAMES : Cuba Keeps Rallying, Wins the Baseball Gold

Times Staff Writer

It's one thing to believe in miracles, another to expect two within eight days.

After ending Cuba's Pan American Games winning streak at 33 games last weekend with a ninth-inning home run, the United States was short of heroes and relief pitchers Saturday at Bush Stadium in the rematch for the championship.

Cuba had to come from behind three times but still won going away, 13-9, for its fifth straight Pan American Games championship and its seventh in eight tournaments since 1951.

For the United States, which achieved at least one goal here by qualifying for the 1988 Olympics Game, it was its fifth second- place finish in the Pan Am Games, all of them to Cuba. The only time the United States has won was in 1967, when Cuba finished second. That also was the last time Cuba lost a game in the Pan Am Games before last Saturday.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 14,000, almost entirely pro-United States, was on hand to see if lightning could strike twice.

It did, but it wasn't the kind of lightning the crowd had in mind. When a thunderstorm interrupted the game in the bottom of the first inning, a bolt of lightning hit the stadium, knocking out the electronic scoreboard for the remainder of the game.

That was the only excitement outside the white lines, much to the relief of a large number of security forces from the Indianapolis Police Department, the Indiana State Police and the Marion County Sheriff's office.

The show of force was deemed necessary not only because of the presence in the second row of Jose Ramon Fernandez, a high-ranking Cuban government official and the commanding officer during the Bay of Pigs invasion, but also because of the scuffle in the stands Friday between members of the Cuban delegation and anti-Castro demonstrators after Cuba's semifinal victory over Puerto Rico.

If the U.S.-supported Bay of Pigs invaders had been armed as well in 1961 as the security forces were Saturday at Bush Stadium, Fernandez wouldn't have been a Cuban hero. Besides the several dozen policeman in the stands, 14 were sitting on the roof of Mr. Dan's hot dog stand on the other side of the center field wall. There were 31 policemen on the field when the Cubans accepted their gold medals from Fernandez in a ceremony after the game.

Through five innings, it appeared as if those medals might belong to the U.S. players. Designated hitter Ed Sprague Jr., who plays for Stanford and is the son of former major leaguer Ed Sprague, hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the fifth to give the United States a 9-8 lead.

It was the third time the United States had led. It had a 2-0 lead in the first inning and the bases loaded when a heavy rain began, causing the game to be stopped for 58 minutes.

When the game resumed, the United States had lost its momentum and couldn't score again in the inning.

Also, starting pitcher Gregg Olson hadn't thrown a pitch in an hour and 20 minutes and no longer had his best fastball.

"The rain delay played a major factor in the ballgame," U.S. second baseman Ty Griffin said. "It allowed them to regroup and think about what they were doing. If we'd scored a couple of more runs in that inning, it would have made a difference."

For the next four innings, it appeared as if the game might end with a score that only football offensive coordinators could appreciate. Cuba scored five runs in the third inning for a 5-2 lead, the United States scored one in the third and five in the fourth for an 8-5 lead, Cuba scored three in the fifth to tie, and Sprague's home run in the bottom of the fifth untied it.

That is when U.S. Coach Ron Fraser called on his best reliever, Cris Carpenter from the University of Georgia. Even though Carpenter had pitched eight innings in three days before Saturday, Fraser said he believed he had no choice.

Carpenter was strong for two innings, retiring the side in order in both and striking out four.

But with one out in the eighth, second-baseman Griffin, who hit the two-run home run to beat the Cubans last Saturday, let a ground ball go through his legs. The next three men reached base, center fielder Victor Mesa driving in two runs with a single to give the Cubans a 10-9 lead.

Cuba scored three more runs on three hits off Carpenter in the ninth.

Omar Ajeteentered the game after Sprague's home run in the fifth shut out the United States on two hits over the final five innings.

But the difference in the teams went beyond relief pitching. While the United States' second, third and fourth hitters had two hits, three runs batted in and two runs Saturday, the heart of Cuba's order had eight hits, seven runs batted in and seven runs. Cuba had four home runs, two by first baseman Luis Casanova.

The Cubans finished the tournament with an 8-1 record, the same as the United States. Since Cuba already had qualified for the 1988 Summer Olympics as the 1986 world champion, the two teams earning earned berths in Seoul, South Korea from this tournament are the United States and Puerto Rico (6-3), which beat Canada, 12-2, Saturday for third place. Canada (4-5) also could qualify for the Olympics by beating Italy, the European championship runner-up, in a playoff game in October at Havana.

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