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Cuba tops Mexico to keep hopes alive

by Jason Coskrey

SAN DIEGO — Stopping outfielder Frederich Cepeda might be the key to keeping the World Baseball Classic trophy from heading to Cuba in a few days.

The problem is, nobody has figured out how to do it yet.

Cepeda drove in four runs and put his team ahead for good with a three-run double in the fifth to lead the Cubans in a 7-4 win over Mexico in an elimination game during the second round of the WBC on Monday night at PETCO Park.

“We had the opportunity to hit and score runs,” Cepeda said. “That gave us the win. I think we put on a great show.”

The result sends Mexico home and puts Cuba in another elimination game against either Japan or South Korea on Wednesday with the winner advancing to the semifinals.

Cuba lost to Japan in the opening game of the second round, setting up its loser-go-home tilt against Mexico.

“We said yesterday that we were a team which was ready to overcome yesterday’s defeat, so here we are,” Cuba manager Higinio Velez said. “We respect powerful teams, such as Mexico, that play well. But only one of us could come out on top.”

The Mexicans stayed close early before Cepeda’s bases-loaded double to center cleared the bases and broke a 2-2 tie.

“I think Frederich is important not only in the lineup but in every aspect of the game and the team itself,” Cuba reliever Pedro Lazo said. “He is an athlete that earns the (team’s) trust.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re winning,’ and then he pulled through.”

The Cuban left fielder went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and a walk. He’s finished with at least two hits in all five of Cuba’s games, recording three hits on two occasions.

“Freddy is a very (good) player that knows what to do and chooses the pitches he wants to hit,” Cuba catcher Ariel Pestano said.

Cepeda has been arguably the best player in tournament, leading Cuba to a 4-1 record. The right fielder leads the WBC with 10 RBIs and is batting .600 with three home runs. Likely an early front-runner for the WBC MVP Award, Cepeda said his goals are more team-oriented.

“I think the main objective here is the team,” Cepeda said. “If we can move forward to the next stage, the semifinals, and then be the winners, that would be the best thing I could take out of this WBC.

“My main goal when I go out on the field is that I am a team player, and the most valuable player will always be the team.”

Starter Norge Vera was the winning pitcher, allowing two runs and striking out five in 4 2/3 innings before leaving the game with a leg injury.

Mexico’s Jorge Campillo was charged with the loss after giving up five runs.

“Vera had a slight muscular distention,” Velez said. “He went to the hospital, he came back and he will be ready to pitch when it’s his turn.”

Lazo relieved Vera and pitched 4 1/3 innings to earn the save.

Cuba took an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Yulieski Gourriel in the first and Cepeda drove in a second run in the third.

Mexico pulled within a run in the bottom of the third on Freddy Sandoval’s RBI single and tied the score when Adrian Gonzalez scored on Scott Hairston’s groundout in the fourth.

Cepeda’s double made the score 5-2 in the fifth and a two-run triple by Yoennis Cespedes put the game out of reach.

Mexico third baseman Jorge Cantu homered off Lazo in the eighth, trimming the lead to 7-3. Left fielder Christian Presichi added a solo shot off Lazo in the ninth to end the scoring.

Venezuela advances

MIAMI (AP) Ramon Hernandez was correctly awarded a solo home run Monday night following a bungled replay review, and Venezuela delighted a cacophonous crowd of 25,599 by beating Puerto Rico 2-0 to secure a spot in the World Baseball Classic’s final four.

Puerto Rico will face the United States on Tuesday night, with the loser eliminated and the winner advancing.