Team USA Routs Cuba To Advance To World Baseball Classic Championship Game

Image credit: Paul Goldschmidt (Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)

MIAMI — For a brief moment, it looked as though Team USA was bound to disappoint in the World Baseball Classic.

Team USA’s star-studded offense struggled to get on track during pool play, reaching its nadir when it managed just three runs against Colombia in a must-win game to advance. The starting pitchers delivered concerning performances in three of the team’s first four games, amplifying fears that the rotation wouldn’t be good enough for Team USA to defend its title. Aside from a few individual position players and the bullpen, Team USA had little going for it as the scene shifted from Phoenix to Miami and every game became win or go home. After struggling to advance in a pool that was tailor-made for it to sail through, Team USA had shown little to indicate it could play at a championship level.

That all feels so long ago now. With two long-awaited offensive outbursts, Team USA reversed its fortunes and altered its trajectory. Now, the defending champions are headed back to the WBC title game.

Trea Turner homered twice, Paul Goldschmidt added another home run and Team USA scored in each of the first six innings to rout Cuba, 14-2, in the WBC semifinals on Sunday night. Team USA will face the winner of the semifinal between Japan and Mexico in the championship game on Tuesday.

Team USA had 14 hits and scored a tournament-high 14 runs against Cuba. That came one night after it recorded a tournament-high 15 hits and scored nine runs against Venezuela in a thrilling, come-from-behind win in the quarterfinals.

“As this tournament has progressed, these guys, they’re at-bat quality has just gotten better and better,” Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said. “They’re relaxed, they understand each other, no one’s trying to impress each other. There’s just a lot of team unity right now.”

Team USA has scored nearly as many runs in the quarterfinals and semifinals (23) as it did in four games of pool play (26). It has nearly as many hits the last two games (29) as it did in four games of pool play (34).

Team USA scored in every inning but one against Cuba. Eight of its nine starters reached base, and even the backups got in on the action. Cedric Mullins, who replaced Mike Trout with the game safely in Team USA’s hands, hit Team USA’s fourth and final home run in the eighth to cap the scoring.

Team USA has hit six home runs the last two games. It hit four in all of pool play in Phoenix.

“I think one thing that stuck out is we were all thrown together pretty quickly in Arizona,” Goldschmidt said. “I felt like kind of after we got through that first round, guys really got comfortable with each other. We had a cross-country flight. Now we’re all staying at the hotel together. I think you learned a lot about each other … ”

Things began inauspiciously for Team USA when starter Adam Wainwright allowed three straight infield singles to open the game and walked Alfredo Despaigne to force home a run. But the veteran righthander rebounded to induce a groundout, an infield popup and another groundout to escape a bases-loaded, no-outs jam and limit the damage to that lone run.

Team USA’s offense took it from there. Mookie Betts doubled to lead off the bottom of the first to set the tone immediately. Two batters later, Goldschmidt pulled a long drive into the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer to stake Team USA to a 2-1 lead.

As soon as Goldschmidt returned to the dugout, he approached his Cardinals teammate Wainwright.

“He comes in after the home run, the first thing he does, he goes right to me and he says, ‘We got you,’ ” Wainwright said. “And for me as a pitcher, I felt like our entire lineup today, they really, they really put the pitchers on their back and they let us know from the early standpoint that they came to play. I felt that. When my guy looks at me and says that, I believed him. I really felt like our team was really going to play a great game today and Goldie kind of set that tone early on.”

Team USA poured it on from there. Turner homered in the second to tack on another run and make it 3-1. Pete Alonso delivered an RBI single and Tim Anderson lifted a sacrifice fly in the third to extend the lead to 5-1. Nolan Arenado drilled an RBI triple the other way to open the scoring in the fourth and came home on a wild pitch to make it 7-1. After Cuba got one back in the fifth, Goldschmidt responded with a two-run single in the bottom of the inning to give Team USA a commanding 9-2 lead.

Turner provided the kill shot, launching a long three-run homer over the left-center field fence to make it 12-2. It was Turner’s fourth home run of the tournament, the most ever by a Team USA player in a single WBC. He also joined Ken Griffey Jr., who is serving as Team USA’s hitting coach, as the only players to have a multi-home run game in the WBC.

“I can’t wait (to) tell him,” Turner said with an ear-to-ear grin on his face. “I don’t know if he knows that. I didn’t know that, but can’t wait to have that conversation with him in the cage tomorrow. It’s going to be fun for me.”

Wainwright, secure in the knowledge that his offense would pick him up if he faltered, held Cuba scoreless the rest of his outing to get through four effective innings. Miles Mikolas critically followed with four more innings and allowed only one run, helping Team USA to keep its best relievers rested in advance of the championship game.

Now, Team USA is headed to the title game exactly where it wants to be. Its offense is rolling. Its best relievers are well-rested. Its defense is sharp after a shaky showing in pool play. The energy levels, sluggish and wanting in Phoenix, are sky-high and seemingly boundless.

The road to get here was rockier than expected, but in the end, Team USA is exactly where it was expected to be: on its way to the WBC championship game, with a star-studded team playing at a championship level.

“I think it took us a little bit of time, but now we kind of found our stride a little bit,” Turner said. “We played good baseball the last few days.”

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