SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — South American baseball has eclipsed the Caribbean and North America at the Pan American Games.
Two teams with little tradition in the sport played the tournament's final on Saturday, with Colombia ending as gold medalist after a sound 9-1 win against Brazil. Neither had ever been in the decider.
Mexico finished with the bronze medal after beating Panama. Cuba, the dominant force in Pan American Games baseball and winner of 10 consecutive games, did not make it to the podium as it didn't four years ago in Lima.
Colombia's Dilson Herrera, a 29-year-old former infielder for the New York Mets and two other Major League teams, and Derwin Pomare gave Colombia had two RBIs in Santiago and led their team to its first Pan American gold medal.
The best result Colombians had previously achieved in baseball was a bronze medal at the 1971 edition of the continent's largest multisports event played in Cali, Colombia.
“This means a lot to us. This country had titles, but this is the first in baseball and we want this sport to be more recognized," Colombia coach José Mosquera told journalists. “This squad had only 15 days to prepare, and now one wonders what would happen if we prepare better.”
Brazil won its first medal in the sport with its leader in the 37-year-old outfielder Paulo Orlando, an MLB champion with the Kansas City Royals in 2015. The silver medalists include bricklayer Osvaldo Carvalho Jr., and welder Raphael Parra.
Colombia lost to Cuba and Brazil in its first two matches in the Pan American Games and was in the verge of early elimination. A win against Venezuela put Colombia into the final round, in which they beat Mexico and Panama to reach the decider.
Brazil was just as shocking in its path to the final with wins against strong baseball nations including Venezuela and Cuba. A final round win against Panama secured its place in the final. Despite having a bitter rematch against Colombia, the Brazilians threw their caps into the air to celebrate their silver medal.
“Of course you want the gold medal when you reach the final," a tearful Orlando said. “But Colombia played very well and deserved their win. We are very happy indeed with the second place.”
Mexico coach Enrique Reyes was not as excited for winning the bronze medal, the only medal his country has ever seen in Pan American Games. The Mexicans took the podium for the first time since 2007 in Rio de Janeiro.
Mexico beat Panama 10-2 on Saturday.
“We are happy, but also sad because we think we could have done more," Reyes told journalists. “All we can do is wait for another Pan American Games to win that gold medal.”
Colombia's Mosquera added some South American teams no longer dread rivals from up north.
“This scenic fear has been lost. I used to hear my parents, my grandparents speak about Cuba and when we saw them we had fear,” the coach said. “(Now) they have no fear. That gap and that fear are gone.”
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