What Happened: Cuba has been the dominant team in international baseball for decades, but for the second time in four days, the Cubans had no answer to Japan’s pitching. Japan shut out Cuba 5-0 to advance to the semifinals while the Cubans were sent home much quicker than they had expected. With the loss, Cuba has failed to make it to the semifinals of a major international tournament for the first time in 49 tries. With Japan’s win, the final four are now set, although Japan will face South Korea tonight to determine seeding in Pool 1.
Japan shut out Cuba twice in four days and outscored Cuba 11-0 in the two games.
The U.S. fell to Venezuela in the Pool 2 championship game, although as Juan C. Rodriguez explained, simply surviving the game was the U.S.’ main priority. The U.S. had to play outfielder Adam Dunn at first base, and although Dunn has played first before, his relative inexperience showed as he missed his target on a throw home by a good five feet to set up four unearned runs. The U.S.’ injuries really hit home when third baseman David Wright fouled a pitch of his foot to split a toenail. Normally Wright would have left the game, but with only one healthy position player on the bench (catcher Brian McCann), Wright limped his way through the rest of the game.
The Stars: Mark DeRosa was the hitting star for the U.S. as he went 3-for-5 with a home run. Second baseman Brian Roberts has been one of the best hitters in the U.S. lineup since joining the team as Dustin Pedroia’s injury replacement. Roberts was 2-for-4 with his second double of the WBC.
The Prospects: Japanese righthander Hisashi Iwakuma, 27, carved up Cuba’s hitters with an absolutely masterful performance. Iwakuma mixed a 90-91 mph fastball, a slider and a devestating split-finger fastball to stay ahead of almost every Cuban batter. Iwakuma allowed five hits and one walk in six innings, throwing 47 strikes in 69 efficient pitches.
Cuban center fielder Yoennis Cespedes is one of the best young players on the Cuban team, but he cost Cuba two runs when he dropped a fly ball with two outs in the fourth innings. Cespedes did triple later in the game, but in a game where
Rangers catcher/DH Max Ramirez homered off of LaTroy Hawkins for Venezuela.
Coming Up: Japan and South Korea have a very intense rivalry, which will only be fueled by their fourth meeting of the tournament when they play for the top seed in Pool 1 tonight. South Korea has beaten Japan in two of their first three meetings.