An early wakeup call couldn’t knock Cuba off its game and neither could China.
Cuba rebounded from a late-night loss to Japan less than 24 hours earlier by scoring four runs in the fourth inning on the way to a 6-0 win over China in Pool B of the 2017 World Baseball Classic on Wednesday at Tokyo Dome.
“We didn’t have enough time for sleep, shortstop Alexander Ayala said. “But when we left Cuba, not only physically, but mentally, we were ready to face tough situations.”
Cuba’s game against Japan on Tuesday finished just after 11 p.m. and the Cubans had to deal with a noon start to their contest against China. While they put runners on base early, the breakthrough didn’t come until the fourth inning, which began with the players huddled around manager Carlos Marti.
“Last night’s pitchers from team Japan, their fastballs were fast,” Marti said. “But today we played China and the roster was not the same. So I told them (the batters) to adjust their timing.”
Cuba’s Roel Santo was 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs and finished a home run short of hitting for the cycle. Ayala, Frank Morejon and Yoelqui Cespedes also recorded RBIs.
Cuba starter Bladimir Banos allowed just a one hit and struck out four in five innings on the mound.
“When I started the game, I knew this was an important game not only for me, but for the entire Cuban team,” Banos said. “So I concentrated very hard and I trusted all the fielders behind me. We played very well today.”
China starter Bruce Chen kept Cuba off the scoreboard early. Chen, who spent 17 years in MLB, last pitching for the Cleveland Indians in 2015, allowed no runs on three hits over 2⅔ innings. Chen struck out two and walked one. There were two runners on and no outs when he threw his final pitch and got Ayala to ground into a double play.
“I’m not known for getting double plays in my career,” Chen said. “I’ve got to give the credit to (catcher) Wang Wei. He called for a changeup and they rolled over it.
“This is an experience I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget this game.”
Because Chen was pulled before surpassing 50 pitches — he threw 49 — he’s eligible to return after one day’s rest, which helps an already thin Chinese pitching staff. The 39-year old will pitch against Japan on Friday.
“Japan will see Bruce Chen somewhere in the game,” China manager John McLaren said. “That’s exactly why we did that.”
McLaren said he thought his team mostly played well, but failed to produce anything at the plate. The Chinese were held to just one hit.
“We just didn’t hit,” McLaren said. “We’ve trained well. We’ve played some good games before tonight. We don’t have a lot of power, but we did some things in those games that left me thinking we could give Cuba a good game. We just never got an opportunity. We never had any baserunners, we didn’t get an opportunity to hit and run.
“I know we’re not a strong baseball power. But I believe in our guys. We trained well and we’ll be coming tomorrow night with thoughts of winning.”
China will face Australia in its next game on Thursday night. Cuba will face Australia on Friday.
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