FUKUOKA, Japan—In a nearly empty stadium that had the energy of a library, Cuba trounced China 12-0, invoking the mercy rule after the top of the seventh inning to improve to 2-0 in the first round of the World Baseball Classic.
The official attendance of the game was listed at 3,123, but whoever was counting must have included every player, coach, scout, media member and stadium employee who walked through the gate because the stadium was virtually empty. In reality, there appeared to be about 86 fans in the stadium, with neither team proving to be much of a draw for the fans in Fukuoka, creating the feeling of an Arizona Fall League game in a dome.
China kept the game competitive early, with Cuba holding a 2-0 edge after three innings, but Cuba broke things open in the bottom of the fourth. Right fielder Alexei Bell, who wore batting gloves to the postgame press conference, hit a two-run homer to give Cuba a 4-0 lead. Later in the inning, left fielder Alfredo Despaigne brought two runs home with a double to left field to make it 6-0.
Cuba tacked on six more runs the next inning. Erisbel Arruebarruena led off with a walk, Guillermo Heredia followed with a single to right field and Yasmany Tomas walked to load the bases. Jose Fernandez brought home Arruebarruena and Heredia with a single to right field, then Frederich Cepeda walked to load the bases. Jose Abreu got a mistake left up and over the middle of the plate and deposited it over the left-field fence for the grand slam to make it 12-0 before China could record its first out in the fifth.
The game was an obvious mismatch, with the star power of Cuba standing in stark contrast to China, whose starting pitcher, lefthander Xin Lee, was throwing 78-83 mph with a 69-71 mph breaking ball. The loss drops China to 0-2, with its biggest game coming tomorrow against Brazil, which is also 0-2. The game is critical for both countries, since the winning team won’t have to play in a qualifier to be in the 2017 WBC.
“We knew this was going to be a very difficult game for us because Cuba’s so good, so powerful and we had limited pitching for today,” said China manager John McLaren. “We had three games in a row and had to spread our pitching out, so we’re in good shape for tomorrow night against Brazil.”