Facing elimination, mighty Cuba knocked balls out of the park almost as fast at it knocked Taiwan out of the World Baseball Classic.
The Cubans hit four home runs, two during an eight-run sixth inning, and lived to see another day at the WBC with a 14-0 win over Taiwan in a game that was called after the top of the seventh because of the WBC’s mercy
After a loss to the Netherlands left Cuba on the brink of elimination, manager Victor Mesa didn’t mince words with his players prior to facing Taiwan.
“Just win,” is what Mesa said (through a translator) he told the team.
“This is an elimination game, so try to focus on winning.”
The Cubans heard the orders from their colorful leader loud and clear. Yasmani Tomas hit a three run homer, Frederich Cepeda and Jose Abreu had two-run blasts, and Alfredo Despaigne sent a solo shot into the seats for Cuba, which also triggered the mercy rule in the first round during a 12-0 win over China.
“This is a very important game for the team, Tomas said through a translator. “We all knew that because we lost yesterday. I think my three-run home run meant a lot. We scored three more because of that home run. That brought a lot of energy to the team.”
Jose Fernandez kept the ball in the park, but did his share of the damage with a three-run double in the sixth.
Cuba’s other runs came on an RBI double by Cepeda and run-scoring singles from Yulieski Gourriel and Despiagne.
The Cubans have talked about reaching the final round in San Francisco since the moment they touched down in Japan and will finally have a chance to achieve that goal on Monday.
“We as athletes have a big responsibility to play hard,” Tomas said. “In order to keep playing baseball, in order to get victory in baseball games, as an athlete we have to maximize our effort. What we did tonight, everyone played hard. That led to tonight’s result.”
Cuba will face the loser of Sunday’s game between Japan and the Netherlands, with the winner moving on and the loser eliminated.
“We have a workout tomorrow at 11 am, but no matter which team is coming, we have to be prepared,” Mesa said.
Cuban starter Danny Betancourt shut out Taiwan for six innings, striking out three and walking two, to notch his second win of the WBC.
Taiwan’s Lo Ching-Lung took the loss after allowing a pair of runs on two hits in 2 2/3 innings. Lo probably had it the easiest out of the five pitchers manager Hsieh Chang-Heng sent to the mound.
The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks’ Yang Yao-Hsun relieved Lo and allowed four runs on three hits in one-third of an inning. Lin Yu-Ching didn’t fare any better, giving up four runs on three hits in 2 1/3 frames, and Wang I-Cheng allowed three without recording an out. Tseng Jen-Ho was charged with a run in two-thirds of an inning.
“Our pitchers didn’t work well,” Hseih said. “We gave up a lot of runs.
Even though we gave up a lot of runs, there is no blame for anyone. Lo retired the first two batters on grounders to third in the bottom of the first. Jose Fernandez hit a hard grounder to second that should’ve ended the inning, but second baseman Yen-Wen Kuo didn’t get in front of the ball and allowed it to find its way into right field.
The mistake was a costly one as Cepeda stepped to the plate and sent a ball deep to right to make the score 2-0.
A walk, a bunt single and a Taiwanese throwing error put runners on second and third for Cuba in the fourth, and Despaigne hit an RBI single to center. Tomas cleared the bases with a home run to right, making the score 6-0.
The Cubans burst the game wide open in the sixth behind Abreu’s two-run home run, Despaigne’s solo shot, Jose Fernandez’s three-run double, an RBI double from Cepeda and Gourriel’s RBI single.