HAVANA TIMES — Freddie Cepeda provided the clutch game-winning hit against Australia. Another solid offensive display combined with more consistent pitching was enough to propel Cuba to a 5-3 victory over Australia in this week’s second pre-WBC outing in Taichung, Taipei.
Starter Freddy Asiel Alvarez surrendered a pair of early runs to the Aussies in the home half of the third, dropping Mesa’s squad to a quick 2-1 deficit. The initial damage came on a double by Brad Herman and a pair of run-producing singles stroked by Mitch Dening and former big-leaguer Luke Hughes.
After the trailing Cubans successfully knotted the count in the fifth, Australia immediately regained the lead against reliever Dany Betancourt in the same frame courtesy of a second RBI single provided by lead-off hitter Dening.
Cuba’s victory was secured with a three-run uprising in the seventh sparked by a pair of two-out singles by Guillermo Heredia and José Fernández. A follow-up walk to Yulieski Gourriel loaded the sacks against southpaw Adam Bright.
Freddie Cepeda then singled home the lead runs and Pito Abreu provided an insurance tally with yet another single that plated Gourriel.
Betancourt picked up the victory and Vladimir García earned a save with 2.1 innings of effective one-hit relief. Heredia, Fernández and Alexei Bell paced the Cuban offense with two hits apiece and Alfredo Despaigne homered for the second consecutive game – a solo shot to open the scoring in the second.
But it was Cepeda and Abreu that provided the clutch hits precisely when they were most needed.
The most positive news to be garnered by Cuban fans after the first two matches in Taiwan is the fact that Cuban bats are alive and well, with Mesa’s forces now having outhit the opposition 25-17 over the first 18 innings.
This was not the case during last November’s brief Asian tour in which Cuba bats struggled against both Taiwanese and Japanese professional pitching.
A second noteworthy bright spot was the successful return of second baseman José M. Fernández who seemed fully recovered after having been hit on the hand by an errant Yao Lin Wang fast ball in the initial frame of the opener versus Taiwan.
Tuesday’s Cuban Starters
Guillermo Heredia, Cf (4-2, RBI)
José M. Fernández, 2B (2-2)
Yulieski Gourriel, 3B (4-0)
Frederich Cepeda, DH (4-1, 2 RBI)
José Dariel Abreu, 1B (4-1)
Alfredo Despaigne, LF (3-1, home run)
Alexei Bell, RF (3-2)
Eriel Sánchez, C (3-1)
Erisbel Arruebarruena, SS (2-0)
Tuesday’s Offensive/Defensive Substitutes
Andy Ibáñez, 2B (1-0)
Luis Felipe Rivera, PH (1-1)
Yasmani Tomás, RF (0-0)
Yosvani Peraza, C (1-0)
Frank Camilo Morejón, C (0-0)
Raúl González, ss (0-0)
Tuesday’s Cuban Pitchers
Freddy Asiel Alvarez (3.2 innings, 2 ER)
Dany Betancourt, W (3.0 innings, 1 ER)
Vladimir García, S (2.1 innings, 0 ER)
The Taipei exhibition series moves on to Dou Liou on Thursday afternoon where Cuba will encounter Korea in another 2 pm (1 am Havana and EST time) televised match-up.
Cuba Pre-WBC Exhibition Game Series
February 18 – Kaohsiung – Chinese Taipei 6, Cuba 5 (20,000 attendance estimated)
February 19 – Taichung – Cuba 5, Australia 3
February 21 – Dou Liou – Cuba versus Korea
February 22 – Tainan – Cuba versus Chinese Taipei
February 24 – Taichung – Cuba versus Holanda
February 27 – Osaka Kyocera Dome (Japan) – Cuba versus Hanshin Tigers
March 1 – Fukuoka Yahoo Dome (Japan) – Cuba versus Yomiuri Giants
(*) See Peter C. Bjarkman’s coverage of the World Baseball Classic starting March 2nd from Japan on Baseballdecuba.com.