By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, March 19 — In a do-or-die game in the World Baseball Classic last night in San Diego, Japan did what no other team has done in major baseball tournaments in decades: eliminate Cuba before the semifinals.
Those who argued the superior pitching of the Japanese team were proven right as the Asians controlled the game from start to finish, winning on a 5-0 shutout. Just three days before, they had defeated the islanders 6-0 in a preview of what was to come in the rubber match.
Team Cuba’s manager Higinio Velez chose hard-throwing right-hander Yunieski Maya, 27, for the crucial game while Japan went with another 27-year-old right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, the best pitcher last year in Japan’s Pacific League.
Maya pitched well the first three innings allowing only two singles, but ran into trouble in the fourth with one out when Aoki singled and Inaba doubled to put runners on second and third.
After getting Murata on a fly to short center for the second out, Ogasawara hit the ball to deep center. Twenty-two year-old Yoennis Cespedes ran hard to make it to the ball but couldn’t hold on to it, for what the scorers ruled a 2-run 2-base error.
Yulieski Gonzalez was brought in for Maya to put out the fire and after walking the first batter and committing a balk, managed to get the final out without further damage.
However, the 2-0 lead was all Japan really needed. The pitching of Iwakuma (6 innings) and Sugiuchi (the final three) was airtight and Cuba was only able to put runners on base with two outs, doing so in the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but to know avail.
The numbers speak for themselves; Japan had five runs on eight hits and six walks with only three strikeouts while Cuba was reduced to five hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts.
Frederich Cepeda, Cuba’s top batter in the team’s previous five WBC games was held hitless in four at-bats. Yoennis Cespedes had a two-out triple in the sixth and Leslie Anderson a two-out double in the second, both left stranded.
While the Cubans pack their bags for a non-glorious return to Havana, finishing sixth in the 16-team tournament, Japan now plays Korea on Thursday to determine the winner of Pool 1 in the WBC and then moves on to Los Angeles for the semifinals this weekend against either Venezuela or Team USA.
Earlier on Wednesday Venezuela defeated Team USA 10-6 at Miami Dolphin Stadium to finish first in Pool 2.
To read more about Cuba in the 2nd World Baseball Classic see Peter C. Bjarkman’s Havana Times WBC Diary:
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