Cuba's Classic run falls short of semis
Two-run error in fourth inning opens door for Japan's victory
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
On Wednesday, Japan defeated Cuba, 5-0, at PETCO Park to eliminate the country from the tournament for the second consecutive time. In the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, Japan defeated Cuba, 10-6, in the same park for the title. Japan also defeated Cuba, 6-0, on Sunday.
Japan will join Korea as the Pool 1 representatives in the semifinals in Los Angeles. United States and Venezuela have also qualified for the next round.
"Today was a special game," Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said. "We had to win and that was the main goal for us. We were all aware of this. As a manager, I was all tensed up and ready for the game."
As for Cuba, the loss and subsequent finish in the tournament marks a new low for the country. According to the information provided by World Baseball Classic organizers, Wednesday's elimination marks the lowest finish ever in one of the four major international competitions -- World Cup, Intercontinental Cup, Olympics and World Baseball Classic -- for Cuba, and the lowest since a third-place finish in the 1951 World Cup.
Since 1952, Cuba had played in 40 international competition finals and won 33 times. Additionally, Cuba had streaked to 38 international titles in 49 tournaments since 1939.
The streak took a major hit Wednesday. Team Cuba will return to the island with a 4-2 record in this year's World Baseball Classic.
The game began as a pitching duel between Japan's Hisashi Iwakuma and Cuba's Yuneski Maya, and for three innings the teams traded zeros. But a one-out single by Japanese left fielder Norichika Aoki marked the beginning of the end of Cuba's historic run. Designated hitter Atsunori Inaba followed with a double to put both runners in scoring position.
And when it seemed like it couldn't get any worse for Cuba, it did.
Maya's first pitch to the next batter, Michihiro Ogasawara, changed the game. Ogasawara connected on the low fastball and drove it deep to center field. Cuban center fielder Yoennis Cespedes raced into position and appeared to catch the fly but the ball bounced in and out of his glove.
Aoki and Inabal scored. Cuba never bounced back.
In the fifth inning, Japan second baseman Akinori Iwamura led off the frame with a walk and scored two batters later on a single to center field by Aoki for a 3-0 lead. In the seventh, Iwamura stung the Cubans again by drawing his second walk of the game. He moved to third on a single by Ichiro Suzuki and raced home on a sacrifice fly by Hiroyuki Nakajima for Japan's fourth run.
It was more than enough.
Japan and Korea will square off Thursday night to determine the top seed in the pool. Cuba will return to the island before the first pitch is delivered.
"Thank you very much," Cuba manager Higinio Velez said in a press release. "All the best to all the four teams."