Last Thursday in a raucous estadio in Havana, Fidel Castro earned a victory cigar and Venezuelan president Hugo Ch�vez entered the pantheon of politicians who couldn't back up their smack. Ch�vez capped a four-day state visit to Cuba by staging a baseball game between former members of the Venezuelan and Cuban national teams. Castro skippered the home club while Ch�vez pitched for the visitors.
Fifty-five-thousand screaming, salsa-dancing, conga-thumping, cowbell-banging fans cheered at Estadio Latino-americano as Cuba's hitters roughed up Ch�vez in the first inning, scoring three times on three hits and a pair of walks. Ch�vez, 45, had boasted after a training session earlier in the week that "the fastball was humming" and had taunted Antonio Mu�oz, a leading slugger for Cuba in the 1970s and '80s, after Mu�oz threatened to take him deep. "Tell Antonio Mu�oz that I have a curve on the outside corner," Ch�vez said.
Ch�vez lived up to his campaign promise by fanning Munoz in the second inning, and by the time the southpaw statesman switched to first base in the fifth, Venezuela had tied the game 4-4. The prez's pitching line: 4? innings, 10 hits, four earned runs, three walks and the one whiff.
Through five innings Castro played it close to the vest—actually a blue wind-breaker he wore over his trademark fatigues—but in the sixth he pulled off the coup of the night He went to his bench for three white-bearded, potbellied pinch hitters who turned out to be current stars of the national team in disguise. With shortstop Germ�n Mesa, first baseman Orestes Kindel�n and pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo in the game. Cuba pushed over a run and won 5-4. Said Fidel, "There was no other option than to do what was necessary to win the game."