Cuba Backs Into Round Two of the World Baseball Classic
Now, with inspiration and without pressure they are capable of anything. Witchcraft seems to work, so nothing would surprise me.
By Ronald Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – Nobody would have thought of it after the Cuban team lost their first two games in the World Baseball Classic, but incredibly they ended up as the first to reach the second phase, and in this way they fulfilled the objective they had when they left Havana.
This is a historic team, because for the first time the squad was made up of players who do not play in the domestic league, and they are not under contract with the Cuban Federation of the discipline either.
Clearly, the inclusion of these players strengthened the roster, but on the field it was not noticed because they arrived unbalanced, probably due to the time difference.
Those two initial clashes were more of the same in Cuban baseball over the last decade in the international arena: good pitching and anemic hitting.
The omens were not good when the squad was integrated, nor when training began, as some videos of players were leaked who referred to the camp on Asian soil as a kind of prison, in which they felt watched.
The comments on social networks exploded at the moment and perhaps caused a relaxation in the freedom of movement of those who were already there, basically those who normally play in Cuba or are “legally” hired.
I don’t really know if the popular demand was what caused the change, but the truth is that if those incorporated at the last minute found themselves with that regime, a real explosion would have occurred, because they would not say it in a low voice like those who did, but at full volume.
Entering baseball matters, Luis Robert Jr. and Yoan Moncada, the banners of the squad, arrived out of shape and had a hard time starting. They, along with Yoennis Céspedes and Lorenzo Quintana, made up the strong core of the “imported”, and as such they were given the most responsible at-bats.
However, after those first two games, in which Cuba scored only five runs, they were the ones that had left the most men on the bases.
In addition, Cespedes dropped a fly ball that was an out and caused a run, and Quintana was a strainer behind the plate, sometimes even uncoordinated with the pitcher, and without catching a runner on the bases.
For that reason, both were taken to the bench, and from there things began to work, combined with other movements such as Yadir Dreke’s batting order change, which was extremely hot from then on.
Perhaps the greatest adaptation to the time change was what caused those who stood out the most for the Cuban team to be the usual ones: Dreke, Alfredo Despaigne, Yadil Mujica and Erisbel Arruebarruena.
Luis Robert Jr. and Moncada later chimed in, and Cuba closed with big wins at the expense of Panama and Chinese Taipei.
However, that would not have been enough to qualify for Round Two if there was not a succession of very rare results that left all five members of group A ending with two and two records.
Key for the Cubans was that, after losing to Cuba, Panama defeated Italy. Then the skies began to open because the Panamanians had lost to Cuba by a wide margin.
The tiebreaker system prioritized the team with the fewest runs allowed, and thanks to the good performance of almost all of Cuba’s pitchers, the team reached the final date with the second best coefficient (just 14 runs against), only behind the Netherlands who had given up 12.
However, the Netherlands was forced to beat the Italians on the last day or lose narrowly to at least advance in second place.
Neither one thing nor the other, because they only scored once and the bambinos scored seven, thanks to a rally that made the Cuban fans jump up because by the work and grace of the holy spirit that not only gave them a pass to the second round, but also left them as the group leaders. This implied avoiding the super favorite Japan in an upcoming do or die quarterfinals game. The Cubans will instead play the Group B runner-up Australia on Wednesday in Tokyo.
The four Cuban starters: Yariel Rodríguez, Jose Ramon Rodriguez, Roennis Elías and Elian Leyva did very well, and relief only failed the first two days, when Carlos Juan Viera and Onelkis García were hit, but both took revenge in their following outings.
Thanks to all of them, there were not many runs accepted in general, and Cuba advanced with the best coefficient to the next stage, where, also, due to another stroke of luck, they will avoid South Korea, predicted to escort the Japanese team in Group B.
The South Koreans lost in a surprising way against Australia and that condemned them to elimination, because unlike the more competitive Group A, in Group B the other two teams were practically there to fill out the list of participants: the Czech Republic and China, and as such they lost against the other three (Japan, Australia and South Korea).
It was a gift of fate, but for Cuba, making the quarterfinals was already a mission accomplished. Now they have a pretty good chance to even sneak into the semifinals/finals phase in the United States, something considered highly unlikely if they had to play Japan or Korea in the quarterfinals.
As always said, the baseball is round and comes in square boxes. If this has been achieved with a scrap of what could have been a truly unified team, imagine what could be achieved if all the stars who play in the Major Leagues are really included in the future.
Whatever happens for the Cubans now it is already a great performance, and be careful, because now with inspiration and without pressure they are capable of anything, and probably even defeat the winner of the group where Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are in the semifinals.
Witchcraft seems to work, so nothing would surprise me, to put it jokingly.
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