BARCELONA — The Cuban entourage along first base kept banging the drums. They danced, smoked cigars and drenched each other with beer. Several Cuban players showered each other with champagne on the pitcher's mound while others carried the Cuban flag around the stadium.
It was party time, Cuban-style, at L'Hospitalet Stadium on Wednesday night.
Cuba's baseball team had won 71 of 72 games, but none compared to the 11-1 triumph over Taiwan.
It gave the Cubans the gold medal in the first year baseball has been a medal sport at the Olympics, and that was a source of much pride.
"Baseball is our national sport," Cuban Coach Jorge Fuentes said. "You come to Cuba, and all you see is little guys trying to play baseball. It's a way of life. This is a highlight for Cuba. It's like Brazil winning in soccer. It's a culmination of many years."
The veteran Cuban team had 18 hits, including home runs by Lazargo Vargas, Orestes Kindelan and Alberto Hernandez. Giorge Diaz, a lanky right-hander, was overpowering, giving up only four hits.
"I think we were in control the entire game," Fuentes said. "We got up early and played our style. Our pitcher controlled the tempo, and our offense kept the pressure on."
If the Cuban machine never stops, it could at least slow by the 1996 Games. The Cubans built this team to peak in 1992. But five players are in their 30s.
"We may be a little green when we get to Atlanta, but the structure is in place in Cuba," Fuentes said. "We may lose three or four players, but we will continue to be strong."
Diaz, one of those talented young players, struck out eight and walked only one. He continually backed the Taiwanese batters off the plate with his fastball, then worked low and away with the curve.
"He was very masterful," said Taiwan's coach, Lai-Fa Lee. "In the last couple of games, we have had the dominant pitching. This time he was totally in control."