After 16 years, Cuba and U.S. will play baseball

784044.jpg

After 16 years, Cuba and U.S. will play baseball

From Comcast SportsNet
HAVANA (AP) -- A team of college stars representing the United States faced off with a veteran Cuban national squad in Havana, reviving a series between two baseball-crazy nations 16 years after it was called off at a nadir in relations. Players and fans stood respectfully in the city's storied Latin American Stadium on Thursday night as the Cuban and then the U.S. national anthems played on loudspeakers -- the latter a rarity in the Communist-run island nation. "This is awesome. I've never been out of the country before, so this is my first time," said USA outfielder Johnny Field, a 20-year-old sophomore who won a College World Series title less than two weeks ago with the University of Arizona. "We've heard all the hype about how great the stadium is, and Cuba is at baseball, and it's already shown since we got here. ... We're fired up to be here." The last time Cuba and the U.S. played a series like this outside of tournament play was 1996, which even among 53 years of bad blood stood out as a particularly bad year for U.S.-Cuban relations: That February, Cuba shot down two small planes piloted by an anti-Castro exile group that Havana accused of entering its airspace to drop leaflets. Later, President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act, which dramatically hardened the U.S. trade embargo. USA Baseball President Mike Gaski said there was no single event that prompted the series to be suspended and decisions on funding, timing and scheduling have kept play from resuming. But he acknowledged that political concerns complicated matters, and said it took years of building relationships to bring about this weekend's games. "It wasn't for lack of trying on both people's parts. And there were probably political pressures that went on above our pay grades. ... I wasn't privy to those conversations," Gaski said. "There's always been an anxiety about defections, and maybe everybody's at a better place right now." The plan is for the Cubans to pay a reciprocal visit next summer. "The most important thing is to maintain this matchup, both in Cuba and in the United States. I would love to go play there," said Victor Mesa, the former star outfielder who's now managing Cuba's national team. There've been a number of Little League exchanges between the countries, and in 1999, the Baltimore Orioles became the first MLB team to play in Cuba since 1959. The U.S. squad of 22 players and five coaches arrived in Havana on Thursday with barely enough time to check into their hotel before it was time to head to the ballpark, where batting practice was interrupted by a downpour typical of the Caribbean summer. Groundskeepers managed to rake the field into playable condition, and the game started about 90 minutes late. In the sparsely filled stands, a few people waved American flags surrounded by horn-blowing Cuba fans. The U.S. won the opener 4-3 on Michael Conforto's grand slam and Jonathan Crawford's 6 1-3 innings of strong pitching. The series is a warm-up for both squads ahead of the upcoming Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands. For the U.S. collegians, all but two of whom are freshmen or sophomores, it's also a chance to see how they perform against tougher competition. "In the past, the big stars from the United States played against us. Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Frank Thomas," Mesa said. "We are a measuring stick for the major leagues. We are an elite team with pitchers who could pitch at any level, so if one of these boys stands out against us, he has the talent to play in the majors." If baseball is America's national pastime, it's equally an obsession in Cuba. Stickball games are a daily sight in crowded Havana streets, and it seems everyone here knows the English words "ball," "strike," "inning" and "home run" -- pronounced "hon-ron." The U.S. and Cuba are perennial favorites at competitions such as the World Baseball Classic, and both sides express respect for what they consider a tough rival. "Whenever we've gone to a tournament, both USA Baseball and Cuba, I know we both look to see which bracket each other's in," said University of Tennessee coach Dave Serrano, manager of the USA squad. "For them to start this rivalry back up is like the Red Sox and the Yankees -- it's supposed to be part of baseball."

White Sox can't score for Jose Quintana, fall 1-0 to lose seventh straight

sox_pgl_harvey_gets_on_track_05-30_640x360_695563331745.jpg

White Sox can't score for Jose Quintana, fall 1-0 to lose seventh straight

NEW YORK -- The White Sox played for a run late in Monday’s contest and the strategy backfired.

Looking to break a scoreless tie, the White Sox called for a bunt with No. 3 hitter Melky Cabrera at bat with two on and none out. Cabrera executed the bunt perfectly, but surrendering the extra out proved costly as the White Sox couldn’t come through against New York Mets starter Matt Harvey.

Half an inning later, Neil Walker homered off Jose Quintana and the Mets sent the White Sox to their seventh straight loss with a 1-0 defeat in front of 38,339 at Citi Field. Quintana lost for the fifth time in 10 decisions despite limiting New York to a run and six hits in seven innings. The White Sox have lost 15 of 19 and are now just two games above the .500 mark.

Three years after he dominated the White Sox at Citi Field, Harvey played the same note once again. But unlike the 2013 season when Harvey, who at the time was the hottest pitcher on the planet, one-hit the White Sox, he entered Monday with a number of questions surrounding whether or not he belonged in the majors.

Yet at no time over the first six innings did Harvey resemble a pitcher carrying a 6.08 ERA. He retired the first 13 men he faced until J.B. Shuck singled with one out in the fifth. Harvey was efficient and throwing hard, striking out six through six innings and walking none.

But the White Sox finally got Harvey on the ropes in the seventh when Adam Eaton drew an eight-pitch walk to start the inning. Jose Abreu followed with a seeing-eye single to left to bring up Cabrera.

Cabrera squared to bunt on the first pitch and took a ball. He bunted again on a 1-1 offering, which moved the runners into scoring position. But the play also took the bat out of Cabrera’s hands. Harvey then retired Todd Frazier on a foul pop out to first base and Shuck grounded out to end the threat.

After Walker’s homer off Quintana gave New York the lead, Mets relievers Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia set down the final six men in order.

Quintana made it clear early on he was up to the challenge against Harvey. With his team in need of another big start, Quintana had it going early, striking out the side in the second inning and four straight batters.

He pitched out of a fourth-inning jam with a double play and limited the Mets’ chances until the seventh. Even after the Walker homer, Quintana pitched out of another jam, stranding two to keep the White Sox within striking distance.

He walked two and struck out seven.

J.B. Shuck: White Sox prospect Tim Anderson doesn't 'get rattled by anything'

snc_sports_bsuiness_05-29_640x360_695290435714.jpg

J.B. Shuck: White Sox prospect Tim Anderson doesn't 'get rattled by anything'

NEW YORK — J.B. Shuck is very impressed with the play of White Sox prospect Tim Anderson.

Recalled Monday from Triple-A Charlotte, Shuck said he thinks Anderson could handle a promotion to the big leagues if the White Sox were to make the call.

At Charlotte for almost six weeks, Shuck had plenty of time to watch the young shortstop play. He thinks Anderson, who is hitting .305/.332/.397 with 11 extra-base hits and 10 steals in 209 plate appearances, wouldn’t scare were he to go in a slump.

“He could come up and do well,” Shuck said. “He has that personality where he’s not going to get rattled by anything. I think he’ll do well when he gets his chance.”

The team’s top position player prospect, Anderson has been torrid since he started the season 9-for-53 with an RBI, 16 strikeouts and no walks. Shuck likes how Anderson handled himself during the stretch, continuing to go about his business until “it clicked.” Since then, Anderson is hitting .354 with three homers and has an .850 OPS in 156 plate appearances over 33 games.

“He went on a stretch where I don’t think he got out for like six games,” Shuck said. “That’s just his personality, and that’s why I think when he does get up here, he’s going to do well.”

Anderson’s production has become more noticeable as the White Sox have struggled to get production from their shortstops. Jimmy Rollins and Tyler Saladino have combined for a .617 OPS this season, which ranks 23rd out of the 30 teams in the majors.

But it’s not just Anderson’s bat that has caught Shuck’s attention.

“He’s athletic. He makes a ton of plays, and he looks good.

“It’s amazing. I’ve never played with him. You see him a little bit in Spring Training, but yeah, he just goes out and has fun and I think that’s why he does so well. He just goes up and hits. It’s amazing. I hope he continues, and he’s going to do well up here when he gets his chance.”

White Sox won't place Austin Jackson on disabled list for now

snc_sports_bsuiness_05-29_640x360_695290435714.jpg

White Sox won't place Austin Jackson on disabled list for now

NEW YORK -- As hot as he is, the White Sox want to prevent Austin Jackson from going on the disabled list.

So even though they’re not sure how long Jackson will be out, the White Sox are hopeful it won’t require 15 days. Jackson was out of the lineup Monday against the New York Mets and in the trainer’s room after he exited Sunday’s game with turf toe on his left foot. Jackson is hitting .464/.484/.607 with four RBIs over his last 31 plate appearances.

The White Sox recalled J.B. Shuck before Monday’s game and started him in center field in Jackson’s stead.

“We don’t necessarily if that’s DL worthy at this point,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “We’re going to try to treat him today, see how well it is. We know he can’t go today, but we don’t necessarily want to lose him for two weeks right away. With J.B. coming up it gives you a chance to fill out that outfield spot with a left-handed bat.”

“He’s been playing well, and I think that’s another part of it. You don’t necessarily want to lose him for two weeks if you don’t have to. If we can save a few days in there and get him back five days before a DL stint, it makes sense.”