By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, March 17.— Team Cuba rebounded last night with a 7 to 4 win against Mexico to stay alive in the highly competitive 2009 World Baseball Classic. After three consecutive victories the Cubans had lost their first WBC game 6-0 on Sunday to the always tough Japan and its ace pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Play began at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 p.m. in San Diego), ending at nearly 2:30 a.m. in Cuba. A large segment of the population was tuned in till the end at homes and still open bars or cafes.
The win was not as easy as the 16-4 blow-out in round one, but the Cubans 11 hits were more than enough to put them one game away from the semifinals. The only catch: they also remain one game away from elimination.
Cepeda and Cespedes Continue to Lead
Left fielder Frederich Cepeda, Cuba’s Mr. Clutch, once again led the club’s offense with three hits including an RBI single in the third inning and a bases cleaning three-run double in the fifth. Yoennis Cespedes, 22, provided big insurance runs in the seventh with a two-out, two-run triple. Third baseman Yulieski Gourriel drove in Cuba’s other run in the first with a single.
Mexico tied the game at 2-2 in the fourth off starter Norge Luis Vera, who got out of a bases loaded, one-out jam without further damage. Vera had to leave the game with what appeared to be a lower-right leg problem, after striking out the first two batters in the fifth.
Veteran Pedro Luis Lazo came on and while generally dominant and striking out six in 4.1 innings, he did allow solo homers to Jorge Cantu in the eighth and Christian Precishi in the ninth.
Mexicans Head South, Cuba Awaits Asian Clash
As the Mexicans packed their bags to cross the border home, Team Cuba must now wait for the result of the Korea-Japan game late Tuesday night to see who will be it’s rival in the winner take all game on Wednesday night for a ticket to the WBC semifinals in Los Angeles.
There is no question that in recent years the Asian teams, mainly Korea and Japan, have been the nemesis of the Cubans. They know each other well and often play each other in the crucial games.
That occurred in the 2006 Classic when Japan beat 10-6 Cuba in the finals and at the Beijing Olympics when Korea relegated Cuba to a silver medal.
Meanwhile, in Miami’s Pool 2 play, Venezuela became the first team qualified for the WBC semifinals in L.A. by shuting out the previously undefeated Puerto Rico 2-0. The Puerto Ricans must now face Team USA in a do-or-die match up on Tuesday afternoon.
Read expert Peter C. Bjarkman’s post on Cuba’s uphill quest to remain at the top of international baseball: Cuba’s Streak Challenged
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