Power Bats Lead Cuba To Pool A Title Over Japan

FUKUOKA, Japan—Power bats led Cuba to a 6-3 victory over Japan today as the Cubans held off a ninth-inning surge from Japan to win Pool A of the World Baseball Classic with a 3-0 record.

Cuba took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning on a home run by right fielder Yasmany Tomas, who got the start over Alexei Bell. Tomas, 22, has shown plus raw power and has looked like one of the young breakout players on the Cuban national team.

Cuba made it 2-0 in the fourth when Jose Fernandez led off with a single to center field and scored on the next play on a Frederich Cepeda double. It was 3-0 in the sixth after Jose Abreu pulled a single to left field to score Luis Rivera. Alfredo Despaigne helped Cuba pull away in the eighth with a three-run homer to make it 6-0, punishing a mistake left up out over the plate before taking plenty of time to admire the trajectory of his hit.

Japan scored three runs in the top of the ninth, but righthander Vladimir Garcia and his 92-94 mph fastball helped get Cuba out of trouble to end the game. Despaigne, who went 2-for-4, was named the MVP of Pool A.

Japan, which dropped to 2-1, will advance with Cuba, Taiwan and the Netherlands to the next round in Tokyo but has struggled all tournament. The winners of the previous two WBCs in 2006 and 2009, Japan needed a late-inning rally to beat Brazil and only managed a 5-2 victory over heavy underdog China. Japan’s lineup has looked lackluster, struggling to score runs against marginal pitching in all three games. Japan had only one extra-base hit during pool play.

The bright spot for Japan was righthander Masahiro Tanaka, who struggled in a brief outing in the first game of the tournament against Brazil but had sharp stuff tonight. Tanaka, 24, is Japan’s best pitcher and will be key for them rest of the WBC. Tanaka allowed one run in two innings, and while Cuba’s hitters squared him up early for three hits, he didn’t walk anyone and struck out six of the 11 hitters he faced. Tanaka sat at 91-94 mph with his fastball and mixed in a wipeout slider that exposed the weaknesses of several Cuban hitters.