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Rays 4, Cuba 1: First Thoughts

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The sport of baseball was the real winner in this historic exhibition game.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Pregame Thoughts

- Before the game, Sports Center host Hannah Storm spoke highly of the Rays, saying, "I can't imagine a better representative of Major League Baseball than the Tampa Bay Rays."

- When Hannah Storm asked on Sports Center what he hopes comes from this visit, KK responded: "I think the common denominator is, we all love baseball, and it's just, with all the government stuff, I don't want to comment on it too much because I don't have too much education on it but, these are great people here, we all want to be united, and hopefully something comes out of it."

- During introductions, Cuban born Rays prospect Dayron Varona received a raucous welcome during team introductions, as did three-time All Star Evan Longoria.

Brad Miller has no idea how to hold a child.

- After the intros were hand shakes with the Obama family in the front row. Chris Archer hand delivered Matt Moore's baseball glove as a personal gift, knowing he could not shake his hand during team introductions. In order to pass it through the net, it appeared Secret Service had to cut a whole in then net behind the plate.

Game Thoughts

- Leading off for the Rays, Dayron Varona received a quiet welcome for his first plate appearance (quite a contrast), but his first-pitch popup was well praised. That baseball is going to Cooperstown.

- Brad Miller, hitting second,lined out sharply to center field, recovered in a web gem sliding grab by Raul Santos that had POTUS and FLOTUS throwing their hands in the air in disbelief.

- Matt Moore allowed two singles on one out in the first inning, but no one was running on Dayron Varona, who has a strong arm in right field. Longoria fielded a slow roller to third, nailing the runner at first base, and the Brad Miller did the same from a deep position at short. Two very strong throws.

- Dickerson hit a mammoth shot that the wind pushed just foul, opposite field. He's gonna be fun to watch.

- Kiermaier hit one to the left field gap, and took off with incredible speed, making second base on an easy feet-first slide.

- Rays 1, Cuba 0 - After a walk from Jennings and a single through the right side from Loney, he used that crazy speed to go two bases and slide into home for the first run of the game. The throw from right field was close, President Obama gave a standing ovation, and President Castro shook his hand in respect for the bang-bang play. The inning would end on an easy force play at second base.

- Matt Moore allowed a single but picked off the runner as he made an aggressive stretch toward second. The runner was so far from first base, he froze in place on the pick off. Easy out.

- Longoria took a two-out walk in the bottom of the frame, but a Dickerson strikeout ended that threat. The Cuban team pulled their starting pitcher, who welcomes contact but pitches with deception, right before Corey Dickerson returned for his second plate appearance. Some contact is too risky.

- Dayron Varona was swapped out of the game in the third inning to allow for a final ovation from the crowd all to him, including a standing ovation from Commissioner Manfred.

- Rays 3, Cuba 0 - With a man aboard in Logan Forsythe, new look James Loney clubbed a baseball with contact late in his swing but enough upper body strength to line one into the stands for a home run. He out enough behind the swing he took a hop as his body came around, giving the appearance of a school yard kid swinging out of his shoes. All the RBI were his.

- Matt Moore had a line drive hit directly back at him, but he was able to brandish his glove in time, with the ball hitting off the heel of the mitt. Moore fielded the play and got the out at first in what could have been a scary moment.

- As reporter Josh Vitale surmised, during an interview on the ESPN broadcast Karl Ravech was trying desperately to get MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to admit he wasn't excited when the Rays won the lottery to play in Cuba. Manfred wouldn't bite, though, saying: "We feel like we won the lottery with the Rays." He went on to compliment the Rays ownership, players, and staff as people and ambassadors.

- One of the Cuban pitchers was on the mound with a toothpick in his mouth, as one does.

- Rays 4, Cuba 0 - In the top of the seventh, Mikie Mahtook got on base and stole second base, coming home on a strong and easy swing by Steve Pearce. It's a good thing the Cuban defense isn't big on the shift. Curt Casali followed with a single to force Cuba into another pitching change.

- Steve Pearce stole third base with a face first slide, beating a throw that was not low enough to beat the hand to the bag. Later, with the bases loaded and one out, Richie Shaffer made nice contact in front of a fastball high, but hit into a double play to end the threat.

- Logan Morrison, looking thick in the chest, hit a long fly to the wall in center field but the wind blew it short of a home run.

- The crowd came back alive in the bottom of the eighth when a flyball, slicing away down the right field line, bounced just inside, rolling away from Steven Souza and allowing a triple, though the runner would not score.

- Rays 4, Cuba 1 - Alex Colome came on to close, and Reyes took an easy breaking ball up in the zone to the yard. Prior to that pitch, catcher Hank Conger was asking Colome to get the ball lower in the zone and it didn't happen. Unable to get his pitches down, Colome switched to almost exclusively high heat.

- Colome allowed a double, and the runner moved to third on a fielder's choice. Colome got a change up in for a swinging strike low in the zone, placed a fastball in the same spot for another, then got a whiff on a pitch away to end the game.

Postgame Thoughts

- RAYS WIN! On one of the biggest stages possible, the Rays put their best on display, while also using the full roster at their disposal. What an incredible experience for all.

- Dayron Varona was full of thankfulness to his country and his team. The significance of being the first Cuban player to defect and then play baseball again on Cuban soil is not lost on him.

- The political significance of today's game, particularly in light of the terrorist attack in Belgium, was at the forefront throughout this game on the ESPN broadcast, and rightfully so. The Rays were truly ambassadors today, serving their country and the sport well.