As Cuba remained the only undefeated team in the 36th baseball World Cup in the Netherlands, Team USA ran its losing streak to two over the weekend.
After the Americans had taken control of the game with a four-run sixth inning, Japan rallied with four runs over the final three innings against two American relievers for a 7-6 victory. Team USA (4-2) dropped into fourth place in Pool B behind the first-place Japanese (7-1), Puerto Rico (5-2) and Nicaragua (5-2).
Team USA didn’t play Sunday and plays the winless Czech Republic today before a Tuesday showdown with Taiwan (3-3). The U.S. has a one-game lead on Taiwan for the fourth and final spot in the medal round out of Pool B. The one-and-done medal round begins Wednesday.
Veteran first baseman Yasuyuki Saigo, a member of the 1996 Olympic silver medalist baseball team as an amateur, struck the big blows for Japan. Reliever Talley Haines (Cubs) gave up three runs in the seventh on a three-run homer by Saigo, and Japan got the game winning run in the ninth off American closer Chris Mobley (Marlins), whose 34 saves ranked second in the minor leagues this year for low Class A Greensboro. Mobley walked the leadoff man, Eishin Soyogi, in the ninth, and one batter later, Saigo made it 7-6 with an RBI single.
Team USA had relied on its potent offense as it tried to bounce back from Friday’s 14-2 drubbing against Nicaragua. Third baseman Mike Cervenak (Giants) hit a two-run homer in the fourth to tie the game 2-2, though Japan took a 3-2 lead in the fifth on a home run by Daisuke Kusano off American starter and big league veteran Jason Jacome (Mexican League).
The U.S. came back to take a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Ben Zobrist (Astros) singled to lead off the inning, moved up on Cervenak’s walk and scored the tying run on an RBI single by Josh Phelps (Devil Rays). One out later, Jeff Deardorff (Rays) walked to load the bases, and Dee Brown (Nationals), a late addition to the roster, drove home two runs with a single. Deardorff also scored on the play on an error by the left fielder.
However, Saigo rallied the Japanese off the American bullpen, leaving Japan alone atop Pool B. Cuba is alone atop Pool A after winning a showdown with the host Netherlands 3-1 on Saturday. Cuban starter Osmari Romero was brillian against the Dutch, striking out nine and walking none in seven scoreless frames. Ivanon Coffie hit a solo homer in the ninth to keep the Dutch from being shut out. Cuba beat Partick Beljaards, who had started and won the European championship game against Italy last month for the Dutch on two days’ rest. Cuba and the Netherlands are both clinched to move on to the medal round, however, as are Panama and Korea.
Cuba dominates the tournament leader board, and its best player has been Yuliesky Gourriel, who has moved to the third-base spot formerly occupied by Omar Linares. Gourriel has a tournament-best six homers and 14 RBIs.
Elsewhere on the weekend:
• Australia (3-4) kept its faint medal-round hopes alive with an 8-0 win against Spain more notable for the seven scoreless innings thrown by lefthander Paul Mildren (Marlins), who struck out 13 while giving up just two his. Trent Oeltjen (Twins) doubled and homered.
• Canada (3-4) split a pair of games, losing Saturday 7-0 to Cuba but beating China 14-2. However, Korea locked up the final spot in pool play as it improved to 4-3 with weekend victories against China (3-1) and South Africa (4-3). It also owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Canada by virtue of a 7-6 victory last Monday. Canada ends its tournament against Brazil today.
• Japan followed up its win against Team USA by hammering Nicaragua 11-3 Sunday, even though Nicaragua out-hit the Japanese 14-13. Twelve of Nicaragua’s hits were singles, Japanese pitchers walked only one and Nicaraguan hitters struck out 13 times while their pitchers issued eight walks.
• Puerto Rico handed Nicaragua its other loss on Saturday with a 6-5 victory as center fielder Jesus Feliciano (Nationals) had three RBIs for Puerto Rico, which beat hard-throwing Nicaragan righty Devorn Hansack. Righthander Orlando Roman (Mets) got his second victory of the World Cup and struck out five in six innings while giving up only one run.