TOKYO—Cuba slugger Alfredo Despaigne put his team into the second round of the 2017 World Baseball Classic by hitting a grand slam to defeat Australia on Friday. Playing at Tokyo Dome, Cuba won 4-3 to advance, along with Japan, as the survivors of Pool B.
Japan and Cuba will be joined by Israel and the Netherlands, who advanced out of Pool A in Korea. Play in the second round begins Sunday in Tokyo.
With the stage set for the winner to advance and the loser to go home, the Cuba-Australia game was a nail-biter. The Aussies took the lead 1-0 in the top of the fifth inning on a single by third baseman Logan Wade. Cuba (2-1) came back in the bottom of the inning when, with two outs and with no one on, Roel Santos and Alexander Ayala singled. Frederich Cepeda walked to load the bases and set the stage for Despaigne.
The slugger connected off Australia lefthander Lachan Wells to give his club all the runs it would need.
"I am not swinging to be the home run leader, just trying to help the team in any way," Despaigne said. "But this home run is a milestone in my career."
For Australia (1-2), it was a day of frustration. They kept putting runners on base but wound up stranding one in every inning and a total of 15 for the game. Overall they were 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Designated hitter Trent Oeltjen put Australia back on the board with a solo homer in the top of the seventh inning to make it 4-2. They scored again in the top of the eighth on an RBI-single from Mitch Dening, but the multitude of missed opportunities ended up being Australia's downfall.
"We outplayed Cuba in every facet of the game, but that one mistake cost us the victory. We did not score with runners in scoring position," Australia manager Jon Deeble said. "We hit a solo home run while they had a grand slam. If (Despaigne) had popped up that pitch instead of hitting it out, we would be sitting here as winners."
Cuban righthander Vladimir Garcia worked three innings of relief to earn the victory. Wells took the loss for Australia, and Cuban closer Miguel Lahera worked a clean ninth inning to pick up a save.
"We were a little nervous at the start of the game," Cuba manager Carlos Marti said. "Australia pitched well and swung the bats well, and we were fortunate to hold on for the victory. We look forward to playing in the next round."
All four teams in the Asia division are scheduled to work out at Tokyo Dome on Saturday in preparation for the second round. Cuba will face Pool A winner Israel at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday and Pool B champion Japan will face the Netherlands at 6 a.m. ET on Sunday.