TOKYO -- One strike was the difference between playing for a spot in the 2013 World Baseball Classic semifinals, or trying to just remain in the Classic for Chinese Taipei.
Had reliever Hung-Wen Chen thrown one more strike against Japan's Hirokazu Ibata, Chinese Taipei would be meeting The Kingdom of the Netherlands for a spot in the Classic's final round.
Instead, Chen gave up a two-out, game-tying RBI single to Ibata in the ninth inning, and Japan went ahead on Sho Nakata's sacrifice fly in the 10th during a 4-3 win that consigned the Taiwanese to an elimination game against Cuba at 5 a.m. ET (7 p.m. local) on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.
"His performance wasn't something I expected," Chinese Taipei manager Chang-Heng Hsieh said through a translator. "Japan has won two World Baseball Classics in a row. They are the champions, and they are so tough."
Chinese Taipei faces another tough test in Cuba on Saturday, and the Cubans aren't thrilled about being in this position either.
Cuba fell, 6-2, against the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Friday. Pool A MVP Alfredo Despaigne and Yulieski Gourriel homered for Cuba in the loss. Jonathan Schoop hit a three-run home run and finished with four RBIs to lead the Dutch.
The Cubans played the early game Friday, and didn't know who'd they would face Saturday before leaving Tokyo Dome. Even so, manager Victor Mesa wasn't concerned.
"No matter who we play, it's going to be a must-win game tomorrow," Mesa said through a translator. "We still have a chance."
Chinese Taipei will send Ching-Lung Lo to the mound against Cuba. Lo made one appearance in the first round, striking out two and allowing a hit in two innings against Korea.
Mesa will counter with Danny Betancourt, who started and earned a win against China with 4 2/3 scoreless innings. Betancourt allowed one hit and struck out eight.
Chinese Taipei coughed up leads in both the eight and ninth innings against Japan before falling behind for good in the 10th. Now it faces a quick turnaround with its Classic life on the line.
"My heart is still pounding, but the game is over," Hsieh said. "We have to reset our minds. Tomorrow is a new game.
"Cuba has such a strong history in baseball, and they are so tough. So I wish all my pitchers the best."
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.