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Tuesday, August 12
Updated: August 13, 7:33 PM ET
Cuba wins ninth straight gold medal at Pan Am

Associated Press

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Ariel Pestano pounded his chest, pounded first base, then took a little celebratory walk to high-five his coach.

Same old Cuba.

The joyous display came after he drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning and Pestano later homered as the Cubans won their ninth straight Pan American Games baseball gold medal, 3-1 over the United States on Tuesday night.

Cuba also beat the Americans in the 1999 Pan Ams in Winnipeg, 5-1.

"This is our gift to the Cuban people for all their support and inspiration they've given us since we've been here,'' Pestano said. "Viva Cuba!''

Cuba coach Higinio Velez dedicated the win to Cuban president Fidel Castro as an early birthday present. He turns 77 on Wednesday. Pestano also dedicated his heroics to his late mother, Raquel, who died of a heart attack in March at age 47.

U.S. reliever Huston Street held his hat in his teeth as the dejected Americans draped their arms over the dugout railing and watched in disbelief as the Cubans celebrated wildly on the mound.

Jered Weaver (4-1), the younger brother of New York Yankees pitcher Jeff Weaver, took his first loss of the summer and had his streak of scoreless innings end at 45 2/3. He allowed eight hits and struck out seven in eight innings.

The right-hander from Long Beach State pitched 7 1/3 innings in the Americans' 2-0 win over the Dominican Republic last Monday. He retired nine of the first 10 Cuban batters Tuesday, allowing a one-out double to Pestano in the third.

"We can't do much about what happened,'' Weaver said. "I felt great. I threw good pitches.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wear USA across your chest.''

Yulieski Gourriel's RBI single in the sixth to tie the game broke Weaver's impressive scoreless innings streak. Then the Cubans, who are professional players, tagged the tiring Weaver for three straight singles in the seventh. Pestano came to the plate with runners on the corners and no outs and drove a fastball to shallow center field.

The Americans, all collegians, finished their sensational summer with a 27-2 record, the winningest season ever by the U.S. baseball team. Their other loss was 3-0 against Nicaragua here last Tuesday.

"Coming into the game, we had Weaver on the hill, and he's been excellent all summer,'' second baseman Eric Patterson of Georgia Tech said. "We knew he was going to keep us in the game, but we didn't score enough runs for him. This still doesn't take anything away from our summer. It was a great summer.''

Cuban fans stood on their seats dancing to festive music played by an eight-piece band next to Cuba's dugout. Even the games' official mascot, Tito, joined in the fiesta, shaking his giant green manatee costume to the music as he mingled in the crowd.

"It's a great atmosphere for baseball,'' U.S. coach Ray Tanner said. "This is what it's all about. Much like the U.S., they have a tremendous passion for baseball. And they've been very successful.''

Four Cuban flags were draped over the dugout, and many smaller ones were waved by fans, who chanted "Cu-ba! Cu-ba!'' Two men held cardboard signs reading "Cuba Campeon'' -- Cuba champion.

"Their whole delegation is probably here,'' U.S. left fielder Danny Putnam said.

Osmany Urrutia, Cuba's star designated hitter, went 1-for-4. He batted better than .400 in each of the last three Cuban National Series.

Norge Luis Vera pitched a two-hitter on two days' rest after going eight innings in Cuba's 10-0 quarterfinal win Saturday over the Dominicans. He struck out nine and walked three.

The right-hander retired the side in order in the first and fourth innings, but was challenged in the second when he gave up a leadoff walk to Jeff Larish and a single by Seth Smith. Mike Nickeas grounded out to advance Larish to third and Brent Lillibridge hit a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.

"Vera was too much for us today,'' Tanner said.

Dominican authorities beefed up security for the game.

Soldiers in camouflage stood around the Cuban dugout during batting practice and guarded much of the section where Cuba's delegation was seated. Even some gates that had previously been open during the tournament were locked and guarded.

One soldier said Dominican officials more than doubled security, and estimated the total at around 400. He said any Cuban who got away would mean jail time for the Dominican patrol.

Mexico defeated Nicaragua 6-2 for bronze earlier Tuesday. The Mexicans lost in the semifinals to the United States 3-2 in 14 innings.

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