FUKUOKA – Japan and Cuba both advanced to the second round of the World Baseball Classic for the third straight time on Monday after Cuba defeated China 12-0 in Pool A at Fukuoka Dome.
The game was ended after China batted in the top of the seventh by the mercy rule that hands a win to teams leading by 10 or more runs after seven innings.
Cuba joined two-time defending champion Japan at 2-0 with one pool game left to play, while China joined Brazil at 0-2. China will play Brazil on Tuesday for a spot in the 2017 tournament.
Japan and Cuba will complete Pool A action on Wednesday to determine the group winner, which will start the second round in Pool 1 at Tokyo Dome on Friday against the Pool B runnerup from Taichung, Taiwan.
The Pool A runnerup will play the Pool B winner in the modified double-elimination second round.
“We welcome the fact that we moved on today,” Japan skipper Koji Yamamoto said in a statement. “But we want to take it one game at a time because the games will continue to be tough, and we will need the resolve of the team.”
“Everyone still has their jobs to do and we have to keep marching toward our big goal.”
Cuba manager Victor Mesa said reaching the final round in San Francisco from March 17 is more important than ending Cuba’s 0-3 record in the WBC to Japan on Wednesday.
“At this moment, beating Japan is secondary,” he said. “Of course, we want to clinch the pool. That’s why we flew all the way from Cuba to Japan.”
“But, the most important thing is who goes to San Francisco, who goes to the United States. To do that, we have to compete against Japan.”
“Cuba has more power,” China manager John McLaren said. “That’s the big difference I see. Both Japan and Cuba are very aggressive. They both put the game in motion. It will come down to pitching. I’m looking forward to watching it.”
Cuba starter Danny Betancourt threw 4-2/3 overpowering innings. The right-hander allowed a walk and a hit while striking out eight, with six in a row going down swinging.
The attack was spearheaded by second baseman Jose Fernandez and first baseman Jose Abreu.
Fernandez reached on an error, singled three straight times and scored four runs. Abreu drove in five runs, plating Fernandez with a second-inning double and hit a grand slam in Cuba’s six-run fifth.
Mesa said he was 80 percent satisfied with his team’s form, but was exasperated by a continued inability to lay down sacrifice bunts.
“I am asking all my players to practice bunting, 100 or 200 times,” he said. “Fernandez and (cleanup hitter Frederich) Cepeda don’t bunt in our domestic league. Even when I give them the sign, they don’t want to bunt. As a manager, that’s a problem.”
China’s offense got off to an embarassing start. After getting a base runner in the second inning, Chu Fujia swiped second as Cuba catcher Eriel Sanchez fumbled the ball and made no throw.
Chu, however, walked off the bag. Fernandez got the ball from the pitcher and tagged Chu out.
“He (Chu) told me one of the Cuban infielders told him it was a foul ball, and he went back to first base,” McLaren said. “It’s a lesson learned.”
China was taught another lesson by the Cubans, who had gotten an out on Sunday on an appeal play after a Brazil runner failed to touch first base.
In the fourth, after Erisbel Arruebarruena reached on a bunt single and went to second on a scoring error, China believed Arruebarruena had missed first base.
After the umpire tutored pitcher Li Xin on the procedure, all eyes were on Li’s throw to first. The appeal was denied, and while no one was paying attention, Arruebarruena stole third without a throw.
Shu Okamura, a former batting star for Aomori Yamada High School, came on as a pinch hitter for China in the ninth and reached on an infield single in his first WBC at-bat.
“I am relieved to get that first hit,” said Okamura, whose mother is Chinese. “I was born in Japan, but I play for China. Now I’m getting to see all kinds of international play, and I’m getting a great opportunity to learn.”
No teams from Pool B have clinched a spot in Tokyo yet, although host Taiwan leads with two wins and no defeats.