Puerto Rico ended Cuba’s unbeaten run at the World Cup, leaving the Netherlands as the lone unbeaten team in the tournament.
Friday’s highlights, which do not include a game for Team USA, as the Americans were rained out of their scheduled game with Australia:
• Luis Matos, the former Orioles outfielder, broke a 2-2 tie with an eighth-inning leadoff homer, and former big league veteran Tony (a.k.a. Jose) Valentin later cracked a two-run double as Puerto Rico used veteran bats and young pitching to beat Cuba 5-2. Valentin and Raul Casanova had two hits apiece, while three relievers held Cuba to two hits in four scoreless innings as Puerto Rico matched Cuba’s 4-1 second round record. A pair of former college pitchers, Florida International alum Miguel Mejia (Tigers) and Bethune-Cookman alum R.J. Rodriguez (Pirates), followed a scoreless frame from 20-year-old lefty Nelvin Fuentes (Twins) in Puerto Rico’s strong bullpen effort. Cuba’s runs both came on solo homers by Alfredo Despaigne and Ariel Pestano. Rodriguez was especially impressive, working through the middle of Cuba’s lineup in the eighth and working around a leadoff double.
• Taiwan beat Mexico 1-0 as Yen-Feng Lin and Yu-Ching Lu combined on a three-hitter over 10 innings. Taiwan, 4-1 in the second round, now is in second place in the Italy group behind the 4-0 Americans. Australia at 3-1 is next, while Italy dealt a fatal blow to Japan’s World Cup hopes with its first victory, beating the Japanese 6-4. Former Mariners farmhand Francesco Imperiali had a three-run double in the sixth inning that proved to be the key hit. Canada improved to 3-2 in the pool with a 19-2 pounding of Netherlands Antilles, as Jimmy Van Ostrand (Astros), Brett Lawrie (Brewers) and Shawn Bowman (Mets) all homered. Lawrie was one of three Canadians with three hits while Brooks McNiven (Giants) pitched six innings to save the Canadian bullpen. At 3-2, Canada is in fourth place in the Italian pool, one game up on Mexico and 1.5 up on Italy.
• In other games in the Netherlands pool, the host nation got an eight-hit shutout from three pitchers, led by starter Tom Stuifbergen (Twins), in a 6-0 victory against Great Britain. Nicaragua snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Spain 9-5, while Venezuela beat South Korea 4-1 as Orlando Perdomo threw five no-hit innings and the bullpen limited South Korea to one hit. Those results leave the Dutch in control of their pool at 5-0, with Cuba and Puerto Rico at 4-1 tied for second. South Korea, Venezuela and Nicaragua are tied at 2-3, vying for the fourth and final third-round spot.
• Three more days of second-round play remain. Team USA has scheduled games remaining with Mexico on Saturday and host Italy on Sunday, and could make up its game with Australia on Monday, when the only scheduled game is Italy vs. Netherlands Antilles.