Host Japan Beats Cuba In World Baseball Classic Pool B Opener

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TOKYO—In what was billed as the top game in Pool B of the World Baseball Classic, Japan defeated Cuba 11-6 on Tuesday night before a crowd of 44,908 at Tokyo Dome.

Both clubs fared poorly during exhibition play leading up to the official Classic opener but, despite leaving 11 men on base, Japan (1-0) banged out 14 hits to please the home crowd and take the lead in its pool.

Third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda led the way, going 4-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs. Cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo also homered for and center fielder Norichika Aoki, the only big leaguer on the Japanese squad, made two sparkling catches to stave off potential rallies by Cuba (0-1).

“I was a little nervous at the start of the game, because we had not played well in the tune-up games, but our offense and defense came through big time,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said. “We got a great game from our No. 8 hitter, Matsuda. He did a stellar job.”

There had been some doubt whether Kokubo would play the previously slumping Matsuda, the only full-time third baseman on the Japanese roster, but the decision to insert him in the starting lineup proved to be the correct one.

“We showed our power tonight,” Matsuda said. “I am glad I was chosen to start the game, and I want to thank my manager for giving me a chance.”

Japan took the lead in the first inning when Aoki doubled and Tsutsugo followed with a single to drive in the game’s first run. Cuba tied the score in the top of the third on a sacrifice fly by Alexander Ayala.

Japan regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth when Cuban third baseman Yurisbel Gracial made his first of two errors in the game. Japan blew it open with a five-run fifth, highlighted by Matsuda’s home run as the Japanese batted around.

Cuba fought back. Alfredo Despaigne homered as the Cubans scored three runs in the seventh and added more two in the eighth, but the Japanese side kept ahead with two runs each in the those innings, including a two-run blast by Tsutsugo, who led Japan’s Central League with 44 homers last season.

Righthander Ayumu Ishikawa (1-0) started for Japan and pitched four innings with two hits and one run allowed to pick up the win. Yoanni Yera (0-1) gave up three runs in three innings of relief to take the loss for Cuba.

“I had some trouble finding my rhythm in the beginning but felt better after we got the lead,” Ishikawa said. “Our defense got me out of a jam, and I am looking forward to pitching once more in the World Baseball Classic.”

Tokyo action resumes on Wednesday with a doubleheader; Cuba and China will play a noon game, followed by Japan-Australia at 7 p.m.

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