HAVANA TIMES — Cuba finally broke the spell in play against Japan in the World Baseball Classic events taking a 6-3 win in the final game of first round play in Fukuoka, reported Baseballdecuba.com.
Both teams had already qualified for round two in Tokyo, which begins for Cuba with a game against Holland Thursday night at 10 p.m. Cuban time (ET).
Japan, which won both the previous Classics, had defeated Cuba 10-6 in the final match of the 2006 WBC and then shut them out twice 6-0, 5-0 in WBC II in 2009.
When Cuba finally got on the scoreboard in the third inning on a solo shot by Yasmani Tomás they had gone 20 innings without a run against the acclaimed Japanese pitching.
Cuba opened with veteran left-hander Wilber Perez who managed three scones on three hits while also striking out three rivals, an excellent performance from the Isle of Youth hurler.
Yasmani Tomás’s homer came in the third on a curve ball thrown by Japan’s starter Ohtonari, who took the loss.
Cuba added a run in the fourth inning off star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on a single by Jose Miguel Fernandez, who leads the tournament with a .625 average, and an RBI double by Frederich Cepeda.
Tanaka then settled down and struck out six batters in two innings before leaving the game.
Yander Guevara came on to relieve in the fourth inning for Cuba and went 2.1 innings allowing one hit, walking two and striking out three.
In the sixth Cuba extended their lead to 3-0 on a double by the red hot Jose Fernandez and a single by Jose Dariel Abreu bringing home pinch runner Luis F. Rivera. The run was charged to reliever Hirokazu Sawamura.
Cuba ran into its first serious jam in the top of the sixth when with one out Guevara walked Yoshio Itoi. Reliever Diosdany Castillo then gave up a hit to Sho Nakata with Itoi moving to third. Victor Mesa made another pitching change bringing in veteran left-hander Norberto Gonzalez who got Atsunori to hit back to the box that turned into a double play to end the threat.
However if Gonzalez strong relief was crucial for Cuba, the eighth inning at the plate turned out to be decisive.
Cepeda drew a walk and Alexei Bell came on to run, reaching third on a hit by Jose Dariel Abreu.
The next batter, Alfredo Despaigne, who holds the record for the most homers in a Cuban league season with 36, belted a drive over the left field fence that put the game at 6-0.
Gonzalez opened the ninth for Cuba getting Yoshio to fly to center and then manager Victor Mesa decided to test his least experienced pitchers.
Raciel Iglesias, who had pitched three scones against Brazil in game one, couldn’t find the strike zone and allowed two walks. Then came 19-year-old Darien Nuñez who also walked his only batter to load the bases.
In came closer Vladimir Garcia, and the righty gave up a single that permitted only one run to score thanks to a sensational stop by shortstop Arruebarruena. A sacrifice fly by Takashi Toritani brought in the second run and a single from Hirokazu Ibata drove in the third. Garcia finally ended the long inning by striking out Ryoji Aikawa to end the game.
Wilber Perez was the winning pitcher and Kenji Ohtonari the loser. The Cubans will now leave for Tokyo where their second round rivals will be Holland, Chinese Taipei and Japan in double elimination play.
Two teams will qualify for a trip to the semifinal round in San Francisco.
Cuba’s first game is tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. Cuban time (the following day at noon in Japan) against Holland, the winners of the 2011 World Cup and a team that has played well against Cuba in recent years.
Round Two (Group One) Games:
March 7, 10:00 p.m. (ET), Holland vs. Cuba
March 8, 5:00 a.m (ET), Japan vs. China Taipei