As the Cuban players, their bright red uniforms caked with dust, filed quietly out of Indianapolis's Bush Stadium toward the parking lot last Saturday afternoon, they were in shock at what had just happened. With two out and a man on first in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 4-4 game against the U.S., Cuban relief pitcher Pablo Abreu, el Gigante de la Playa ("the Giant from the Beach"), a 6'5" rising star from the coastal town of Marianao, hung a curveball to Georgia Tech second baseman Ty Griffin, who then launched his second homer of the day, high and far over the ivy-covered brick wall in leftfield. Griffin threw a fist in the air, runner Larry Lamphere danced around the bases in glee and the U.S. team swarmed them both as they reached home plate.
Until Saturday, Cuba had not lost a baseball game in Pan Am competition since 1967. Widely considered the best amateur team in the world (and probably as good as a top U.S. minor league team), the Cubans had brought to Indianapolis a slugging, pitching-rich squad led by 20-year-old third baseman Omar Linares, an Eric Davis-type prospect who has been scouted by the Toronto Blue Jays. In their first four games in Indianapolis the Cubans had belted 14 home runs and, as a team, batted .385.
But the U.S. team, a speedy, well-drilled group of collegians who have been together since June, was confident. In July the Americans had traveled to Cuba for a five-game series and won twice—unprecedented for a visiting amateur squad. "We had heard how great they were, how nobody could beat them," said U.S. first baseman Tino Martinez of the University of Tampa. "Down there we proved we could."
The Americans played well enough in Cuba that President Fidel Castro came out of the stands before one game to shake their hands. He wanted to talk to pitcher Gregg Olson of Auburn, who had struck out the side in an earlier game. "How fast do you throw?" asked Castro. "Somewhere in the 90s," said Olson.
August 23, 1987
"We have a machine that pitches that fast," el Presidente responded. "Obviously it didn't help us much."
The U.S. on Wednesday had clubbed its way past Nicaragua 18-0 behind Jim Abbott's solid pitching and brought a collective .426 batting average and a 4-0 record into Saturday's game, which on paper would just be another midtournament round-robin matchup. But, said U.S. head coach Ron Fraser, of the University of Miami, "beating these guys would be like beating the Russians in hockey."
With Olson on the mound, the American team jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, knocking out Cuban starter Jorge Valdez with four singles and a sacrifice fly. Cuba responded with two-run homers from Linares and designated hitter Orestes Kindelan. Then Griffin, a switch-hitting leadoff batter with only eight home runs in his two years in college, drilled a solo shot lefthanded. The U.S. tied it up in the eighth when Martinez raced home from second on a wild sacrifice-bunt play in which batter Mike Fiore crashed into pitcher Rogelio Garcia at first base, jarring the ball loose.
Griffin, who hit his game-winner righthanded (it was the first time he had homered from each side of the plate in one game) said that as he nervously watched the ball soar toward the wall, he "wanted to go whoooo!," pretending to blow a strong carrying wind. The winds were behind the U.S. for this game, but as the Cubans quickly pointed out, there will probably be a rematch this Saturday—almost certainly for the gold medal.