by Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, March 18 — Team USA, Korea and Venezuela have already notched their tickets to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in Los Angeles on March 21-22. The final slot gets decided on Wednesday night when Japan meets Cuba.
Japan will be coming off a 4-1 loss to Korea on Tuesday, after beating Cuba 6-0 on Sunday. The Cubans rebounded from the Japan loss to eliminate Mexico 7-4 on Monday.
The best piece of news for Cuba’s chances is that Japanese star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is not available for this game and that their second top starter Yu Darvish is also unable to pitch having lost last night to Korea.
Working in favor of the Japanese is that they have two straight wins against the Cubans in Classic play dating back to the final game of the first 2006 WBC when they beat the Caribbean team 10-6 in the final game. Nonetheless the Cubans did beat Japan 4-2 at the Beijing Olympics last August.
Game time in San Diego is 11:00 p.m. ET and once again you won’t see many lights off in Cuban homes as Wednesday turns to Thursday. Japan is expected to use right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, a star of the Japanese League, as its starter and Cuba may go with Yuneski Maya, the hard throwing right-hander who plays with Pinar del Rio in the Cuban League.
Back in the 2006 Classic, Cuban manager Higinio Velez said the fated words: “It’s not easy to beat Cuba twice.” Then the powerful Major League stacked Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico teams fell victim to that prediction. Now Japan will try to do what those teams couldn’t.
In WBC action on Tuesday the United States came from behind in the bottom of the ninth at Miami Dolphin Stadium to win 6-5 over a stunned Puerto Rico, which entered the inning cruising with a 5-3 lead. With three outs remaining it had appeared the star-studded Team USA was headed for another disappointment as in 2006 when they failed to make to the semifinals. The game winning hit was a two-run single to right field by NY Mets third baseman David Wright.
At Petco Park in San Diego, scene of tonight’s Cuba-Japan match up, Korea scored three runs in the first inning off Yu Darvich and made it hold to win 4-1.
The US and Venezuela play a game in Miami at 7:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday that will determine which of the two teams is the leader of Pool 2 of the Classic. The winner of the Cuba-Japan game will play Korea on Thursday to determine the Pool 1 leader and second place.
In the semifinals to be played at Dodger Stadium in L.A., the first place team of one group plays the second place team of the other. The winners will then meet in the final game on March 23.
To follow the Cuban team in the Classic we recommend you click on Peter C. Bjarkman’s Havana Times WBC Diary direct from San Diego: http://havanatimes.org/?p=5062 Another popular site with lots of WBC information and statistics is: http://www.baseballdecuba.com/WBC.asp
For a look at what Cuban’s are saying in Havana about the Classic see: http://havanatimes.org/?p=5875