Historic No-Hit Game Opens Renewal of the Cuba-USA Friendly Series

A trio of USA Baseball collegiate hurlers made history Wednesday night in Cary, North Carolina, tossing a combined no-hit, no-run masterpiece against Team Cuba in the opening salvo of this year’s USA-Cuba “Friendly” Series. Tanner Houck (RHP, University of Missouri) opened the match by retiring all 12 batters he faced; southpaw A.J. Puk (University of Florida) was nearly as effective over four additional innings, allowing a single walk to Urmani Guerra in the seventh; Guerra was sacrificed to second by José Adonis García and moved to third on a Puk wild pitch, but the brief rally died there when Frederich Cepeda struck out and Alexander Mayeta rolled quietly to second. Cuba’s only other baserunner came in the eighth when William Saavedra reached on an error by second baseman Bryson Brigman but never moved off first base despite a resounding fly ball to deepest center field by pinch hitter Yosvani Alarcón. Puk earned the victory in the 2-0 whitewash and closer Ryan Henrdrix (Texas A&M) picked up the save by working a flawless ninth.

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Cuba never mounted a serious threat on offense but the islanders’ bats were not exactly silent; Cepeda (who arrived in Cary only this morning from Japan) ripped two long fly ball outs and Saavedra also smacked a towering blast to deep right field. But the few Cuban long balls never found the gaps in the American outfield defense. The no-hitter was only the second one ever thrown against a Cuban national team in the post-revolutionary baseball epoch. The only other was authored back in 1970 in Cartagena, Colombia by future big leaguer Burt Hooton. That original American gem came in the opening round of Amateur World Series play and was reversed when José Antonio Huelga edged Hooton in the all-important gold medal rematch.

Hard luck Cuban starter Freddy Asiel Alvarez worked effectively for six frames, despite allowing seven scattered singles, but was finally touched up for a run in the sixth when a trio of sharp base raps brought home the game’s first tally, knocked home by designated hitter Matt Thaiss. An insurance run against Cuban reliever Liván Moinelo (manager Roger Machado’s lone bullpen southpaw) was gifted to the winners courtesy of an error by second baseman Raúl González, a wild pitch by Moinelo (resulting in a two base advance), and a well-timed infield bouncer.

This extraordinary opening game of what promises to be a tightly contested series continued two recent trends, the first being the closeness of each and every game in this USA-Cuba series over the past three summers. A second and perhaps more disturbing trend has been the slow starts (especially on offensive) suffered by Cuban teams in recent international events. The Cuban bats never did heat up here on American soil during this same series two years ago. And then there were the deep holes into which the Cuban forces played themselves with losses in three of the four opening games of each of the last two editions of the Caribbean Series. It is a conundrum that manager Roger Machado will have to solve rather quickly, before his team moves on to Toronto and more serious challenges to be faced in the rapidly approaching Pan American Games.

 

Peter C. Bjarkman is Senior Writer at BaseballdeCuba.com (since 2007), widely recognized as a leading authority on Cuban baseball history (both pre- and post-revolution) and author of A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006 (2007) among numerous other titles.