World Baseball Classic Roundup: Japan Tops China, Italy Takes Down Cuba

Image credit: Shugo Maki (Getty Images)

Japan 8, China 1

What Happened: China amazingly had the go-ahead run at the plate in the seventh inning, but Japan got a home run from Shugo Maki in the seventh and a four-run eighth inning to finally pull away in the two teams’ World Baseball Classic openers. In front of a sellout crowd, Shohei Ohtani carried a perfect game into the fourth inning and had a two-run double. Japan had chance after chance to blow the game open, but a series of soft-tossing Chinese pitchers—none of whom topped 88 mph—managed to get out of jam after jam thanks to excellent work by China’s infield. Japan left 16 batters on base. 

Stars of the Game: Ohtani went 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs, two runs scored and two walks. He also threw four scoreless innings with one hit allowed and five strikeouts. Maki homered, and Lars Nootbaar had two singles and two runs scored.

Prospect of Note: Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida went 0 for 3 with a walk and a run scored and third baseman Munetaka Murakami, the top position player in Japan, went 0 for 3 with two walks and a runs scored.

Why It Matters: The end result is exactly what was expected, but the path to get there was quite surprising. Japan is still the massive favorite to advance out of Pool B. China is still expected to battle with the Czech Republic to stay out of the pool basement. But China did impress with a very gutty performance. 

—JJ Cooper

Italy 6, Cuba 3 (10 innings)

What Happened: Italy scored four runs in the top of the 10th inning to hold off Cuba in extra innings. The key moment came when ghost runner Sal Frelick stole third base and scored on a single by DH John Valente for the go-ahead run. Valente then scored on an RBI double by D-backs prospect Dominic Fletcher to extend the lead, and Nicky Lopez added a two-out, two-run single to help Italy pull away. Italy never trailed in the contest, although Cuba rallied with a run in the seventh and another in the eighth to tie the score at 2-2 and force extras.

Stars of the Game: Lopez went 2 for 5 with two RBIs and a run scored. Miles Mastrobuoni had two doubles and Vinnie Pasquantino added a pair of hits as well. Erisbel Arruebarrena went 2 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored to lead Cuba. Matt Harvey tossed three scoreless innings for Italy and Cardinals righthander Andre Pallante followed with two more. Cuba starter Roenis Elias pitched five scoreless innings, striking out three while allowing two hits and a walk. 

Prospect of Note: Frelick and Fletcher provided hits and runs in key moments. Fletcher reached base three times, going 2-for-4 with a run scored, an RBI and a double. Frelick scored the game’s opening run and stole third in the top of the 10th before being driven home with the go-ahead run.

What It Means: Cuba is now 0-2 to start pool play and must beat Taiwan on Thursday night to keep their slim hopes of advancing alive. Italy is now in a good position with the two weakest opponents in Pool A on the schedule before it faces the Netherlands in its final game of pool play.

—Geoff Pontes

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