HAVANA — For the third time in three games, the final outcome between the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and Cuba came down to the last pitch as Cuba scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth, capped by a walk-off single by Dayan Garcia, to win, 9-8, on Saturday evening at Latin American Stadium.
“That was a very tough loss,” Team USA manager Dave Serrano said. “Hopefully we continue to show the fans of Cuba that we came here to play some baseball. The fact that all three games have been so close is a tribute to the talent and abilities of both teams and just shows how even both teams are and how great they are at playing the game of baseball.”
For the second straight day, D.J. Peterson (New Mexico) connected for a home run, while Kris Bryant (San Diego) finished 2-for-3 with a single and a three-run shot of his own. Cuba’s Jose Abreu and Alfredo Despaigne both posted three-hit performances and Garcia was 2-for-4 with four RBIs, including the game-winner.
On the mound, Adam Plutko (UCLA) worked through 5.2 extremely hard-fought innings for Team USA, striking out three and yielding four runs on eight hits before leaving with his team up by two, 6-4.
The U.S. would extend that lead to 8-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, but Cuba had all six of its hitters reach base and the first four score in the game’s final frame to emerge with the win. An error got the stanza started before back-to-back singles by Frederich Cepeda and Despaigne, along with a double by Abreu, cut the United States lead to one and put two runners in scoring position with nobody out.
Likely needing at least two straight strikeouts to keep its lead intact, Team USA turned to fireballing southpaw Carlos Rodon (North Carolina State), fresh off his arrival from the Golden Spikes Award announcement in New York City. He would throw just a single pitch though, with Garcia lining it to center for the game-winning hit as both runners came in to score.
For the first time in the series, Cuba actually scored the first run of the game, getting an RBI single from Garcia in the bottom of the second. The U.S. had an immediate answer though when Peterson laid into a 1-2 pitch with a runner on base and crushed it well out of the park to leftcenter to put Team USA back on top, 2-1.
Just an inning later, Colton Plaia (Loyola Marymount) punched a clutch two-out, two-strike single to right to plate another run and make it 3-1. After a sac fly by Cuba in the bottom of the fourth cut the lead down to one, the U.S. answered three-fold in the top of the fifth.
With runners at first and second after back-to-back singles by Kyle Farmer (Georgia) and Trea Turner (North Carolina State), Bryant hit a towering three-run shot to left to put the U.S. ahead, 6-2.
Much like Friday night, the Cuban bats started to come alive late in the game as Abreu singled in a run in the fifth and both Alexei Bell and Erisbel Arruebarrueno hit solo home runs in the sixth to bring their team back within one run at 6-5.
Team USA was able to add to that lead with single tallies in both the top of the seventh and the ninth to take an 8-5 advantage going into the final frame.
In the seventh, the U.S. used three straight free passes – one hit batter and two walks – to load the bases with nobody out. Although Cuba nearly escaped unscathed, getting a strikeout and a lineout to third, pinch-hitter Austin Cousino (Kentucky) put together a quality, two-out at-bat that resulted in a run-scoring walk.
The Red, White and Blue then added what it thought was an insurance run in the ninth, going up 8-5 and setting up the dramatic finish. The run came in to score on suicide squeeze bunt by Brett Hambright (Oregon) who dropped down a perfect bunt between the mound and first base that ended up as an RBI single.
Game four between the United States and Cuba is slated for a 4 p.m. start on Sunday afternoon. Righthander Ryne Stanek (Arkansas) will toe the rubber for Team USA.