3/4/2013 7:14 A.M. ET
Cuba pounds China to advance in Classic
By Jason Coskrey / Special to MLB.com
FUKUOKA, Japan -- It's San Francisco or bust for Victor Mesa and Cuba, and after their showing against China, the other clubs in the World Baseball Classic may want to think twice about getting in the way.
Alexei Bell hit the first home run in Pool A competition, and Jose Abreu one-upped him with a grand slam, as Cuba took advantage of an inexperienced Chinese team in every facet of the game during a 12-0 rout that was stopped in the seventh inning because of the mercy rule on Monday at Fukuoka's Yafuoku Dome.
"Our lineup is getting loose and our condition is getting better everyday," Mesa, the Cuban manager said through a translator.
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The result leaves Cuba and Japan with two wins in Pool A and sends the baseball powers to the second round, which begins Friday at Tokyo Dome. The two teams will meet in the Pool A finale to determine the group winner.
Mesa has reiterated time and time again that his goal is to lead the Cubans into the final round at San Francisco's AT&T Park, and winning Pool A would get the team off to a good start.
"Our aim is to clinch the pool, so we are pleased to win the first two games," Mesa said. "That's the reason we flew from Cuba to Japan."
His team sent balls flying all over the field against China, racking up six extra-base hits after managing just one in their previous game agaisnt Brazil.
Abreu had a huge game, finishing 2-for-4 with a double, a grand slam and five RBIs. Frederich Cepeda joined the hit parade with a double, a triple and an RBI on a 2-for-3 afternoon, while Alfredo Despaigne had a two-run double among his two hits.
Bell finished the game with one hit, but it was a big one, a two-run homer in the fourth.
What's scarier for the rest of the Classic field is that Mesa hinted Cuba could be even better.
"We have some little problems, but overall we won two straight games," he said. "At the same time, I don't feel 100 percent comfortable. I feel we are lacking something."
The Chinese stood no chance against the powerful Cubans, and even the lopsided score didn't accurately reflect the difference in level between the two teams.
"We knew this was going to be a very difficult game for us," China manager John McLaren said. "Cuba's so good, so powerful and we had limited pitching for today. Playing three games in a row, we had to spread our pitching out. We're in good shape for tomorrow night against Brazil."
Cuban starter Danny Betancourt was on top of his game, throwing 4 2/3 scoreless innings while allowing one hit and striking out eight. Betancourt struck out six straight at one point.
China's Xin Li took the loss after allowing five runs -- four earned -- on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.
The Cubans didn't waste much time getting on the board. Jose Fernandez reached on an error with two outs in the first and came home on Cepeda's RBI triple.
Fernandez singled to start the third, advanced to second on a wild pitch and was driven in by Abreu's double.
Cuba's third and fourth runs were preceded by scene that left many scratching their heads.
Barbaro Arruebarruena bunted to begin the inning and headed for second after a throwing error by Li.
Arruebarruena stepped on first baseman Fujia Chu's foot on his way to second, and the Chinese sought to appeal the play, saying the Cuban missed the bag.
The inexperienced Chinese stumbled through the appeal process until the umpires summoned McLaren and an interpreter out of the dugout to make sure the appeal was executed the correct way.
After getting the proper instruction, Li came to a set position on the rubber, then stepped off and threw to first, while Arruebarruena simultaneously stole third, where he remained as it was ruled he'd touched at least part of the first-base bag during the earlier play.
The next batter, Guillermo Heredia, grounded out, but Bell sent a ball into the seats in left to make the score 4-0. Cuba later tacked on two more runs on a double by Despaigne.
One-out singles by Arruebarruena and Heredia in the fifth set the stage for a two-run single by Fernandez, and Abreu made the score 12-0 with his grand slam later in the inning.
"Our condition is very calm and confident," Mesa said. "Our goal is to go to San Francisco. That's what I'm most concerned about."
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.