The successful trip to Cuba by the Tampa Bay Rays culminated in a 4-1 victory against the Cuban National Team, at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana.
With gifts in hand, the team made a group visit to President Obama, who was sitting behind home plate next to Cuban President Raul Castro prior to the game. They also passed flowers through the netting to first lady Michelle Obama and first daughter Sasha.
Following the goodwill gesture by the team, the ever gregarious Chris Archer stayed behind for a few moments for an extended conversation with the president and first lady.
(President Obama) told me he appreciated how thoughtful I was in speaking about our opportunity to be here, and just in general, Archer said. It’s probably the highest compliment I’ve had in my life. He wasn’t just appreciative of my ability, but of the way I spoke and carried myself. I’ve never had a higher compliment.
Archer also joked with the Obama’s for not responding to his tweet about “hanging out in Cuba.”
I shook the first lady’s hand as well, and (the president) was educating her on who I was. So hopefully there’s some potential there, even if they’re not in office, to get together and do some things. They’re great in the community, they’re really about impacting the youth of this world, and that’s one of my missions in life as well.
Neither of them responded to my tweets, which I was pretty upset about, and I told them, but they’re obviously pretty busy.
The first lady said they can’t get back to everybody. A lot of times, it’s other people actually checking (the Twitter account) and informing her, because they don’t have time to scroll through Twitter. They have, first of all, a family, plus running the country, but it was all playful. Hopefully I can get a response, but if not, I’m totally content with the interaction we had.
Rays players and coaches drew rave reviews for their work in the community throughout the trip, especially from the announcers working the contest. Friend of the blog Danny Russell (DRaysBay) made mention of one such example; a superlative by Sports Center host Hannah Storm, who spoke highly of the team, saying,
I can’t imagine a better representative of Major League Baseball than the Tampa Bay Rays.
For some, like Archer, the emotional trip was about “changing lives.”
At first, some people were kind of skeptical, to be honest. But once we sat down as a group and thought about the magnitude of the experience, it was a no-brainer. Once we landed here, the excitement and the team-bonding experience has just been unbelievable. …We already have a great energy about our club, and it’s elevated to even higher heights now. I’m looking forward to carrying this energy into the season, because we definitely appreciate the opportunities that we’re afforded to play this game on the highest level, from being here and understanding how passionate people around the world are.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred also lavished the team with praises for their effort in being ambassadors for the game, saying,
Spring training is a routine time for players and I know this breaks up their routine. I told them I appreciated them making the effort to come here and I thanked them for being great ambassadors for the game. The entire Rays organization could not have been better, from Stu Sternberg right down through the players. Could not have been better. And I told them how important I think things like this were for the game.
Amongst the pomp and circumstance of the day, a ball-game was to be played.
Matt Moore took the hill for Tampa Bay and became the first Ray to throw six innings in a Spring Training game. He also became the first MLB lefty to start a game at Estadio Latinoamericano since Sandy Koufax in 1959.
Moore looked shaky in the first inning after giving up back-to-back one out singles to Yordan Manduley and Yosvani Alarcon. Yet the lefty coaxed a slow roller to Evan Longoria at third for the second out, and another ground-ball from the next batter ― this time to Brad Miller, who made a strong throw across the diamond for the final out of the frame. Moore got out of the jam unscathed.
He also allowed a single and a walk in the second inning, but nothing more. With Yurisbel Gracial on first, Moore was able to collect an important pick off as the runner took an aggressive lead toward second. Gracial stepped far off the bag and froze up when he realized that he was dead in the water, making for an easy pick-off.
After a clean third inning, Moore allowed a lead-off single to Garcia in the fourth. After a punch out of Gracial, Junior Paumier slashed liner right back to Moore, who was able put up his glove in the knick of time. Thankfully the ball glanced off the heel of his glove, and Moore was able to field the play before throwing over to James Loney at first for the out.
All told, the southpaw got better as the game progressed, with Moore scattering six base hits and walking one while fanning three on 79 pitches (52 for strikes). He has now allowed just two earned runs in 16-1/3 Spring innings of work.
Following Moore, Ryan Webb and Xavier Cedeno threw scoreless innings. The only blemish of the day came against Alex Colome in the ninth inning when the flame thrower gave up a solo shot to Reyes to left-field.
Offensively speaking, Tampa Bay got all of its production from its first basemen.
In the second inning Kevin Kiermaier legged out a two-out double, before Desmond Jennings walked in an extended at-bat. James Loney stepped into to box and drove Kiermaier home on a ground ball that squirted into right-field. In spite of a strong and accurate throw by Cuban right-fielder Jose Adolis Garcia, Kiermaier slid into home with President Obama unofficially making the safe call at the plate.
In the fourth inning, after Jennings worked his second free pass of the day, Loney hammered a homer to right for a 3-0 advantage.
Steve Pearce put the Rays up by a slam in the seventh when he singled home Mikie Mahtook, who had walked and stole second.
The team left Florida shortly after the final out, but not before exchanging jerseys with the Cuban team in the spirit of friendly competition.
We won’t experience anything like this again, so it was a very special day for Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and all of our players, myself included, Rays manager Kevin Cash said. Most of the guys here have played winter ball in some capacity, but this is winter ball times 10 over here, with the passion the fans showed.
However, because of a series of delays with one of their chartered planes, the team did not arrive in Tampa until about 5:00 AM. When all is said and done, the 55-minute flight extended to seven hours.
The New What Next
After traveling home, the Rays will take on the Twins in Ft. Myers with Erasmo Ramirez on the mound.
Rays 3/23/16 Starting Lineup
As a result of the extended stay in Cuba, the Rays will send a mostly minor league squad and coaching staff to face the Twins Wednesday afternoon. Erasmo Ramirez, who did not go on the trip to Cuba, will make his previously scheduled start.
― Archer won’t face the Yankees on Thursday in Tampa. Instead he will pitch in intrasquad game.
― The Tampa bay Rays want you to know that they’ll be all over the TV and radio the next few days: