By Robiel Vega
A dramatic and exciting game was played between Cuba and Italy on the second day of the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Nine innings were not enough and although Cuba fought, clutch hitting (or the lack of it) was once again the key to Cuba’s 3-6 defeat.
The first five innings went without runs. Starter Roenis Elías, despite some complications, managed to dominate in the important moments and kept the Italian side scoreless. The left-hander from Guantanamo allowed two hits, issued a walk, and struck out three opponents.
On the opposite side, Italian starter Matt Harvey cruised flawlessly for three innings. In the fourth inning he got into a jam when he allowed a pair of consecutive hits by Yadir Drake and Yadil Mujica. But after Yoelkis Guibert’s sacrifice bunt, Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert Jr. were retired.
Reliever Andre Pallante dominated the fourth in spite of allowing a hit by Alfredo Despaigne. Yoenis Céspedes grounded into second and Erisbel Arruebarruena hit into an inning-ending double play.
In the fifth Cuba threatened again. Lorenzo Quintana opened the frame with a walked; Drake sacrificed, Mujica was retired, Guibert was walked and Yoan Moncada could not get the job done again, striking out with men on first and third.
After Elías was off the mound problems surfaced. José Ramón Rodríguez was punished with three consecutive hits and had to leave the box with only one out. Naykel Cruz came in to try to put out the fire and did a good job, retiring the two opponents he faced, but he could not prevent catcher Brett Sullivan from sending home the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly to right field.
The lead was extended one inning later. Naykel Cruz started the frame allowing a single and was replaced by Liván Moinelo. The left-hander from Pinar del Río retired three of the four opponents he faced, but Vinnie Pasqueantino hit a long fly to the left side which, although did not count as an error, hit Yoenis Céspedes in the glove in a play that reminded us of the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Cuba seemed to wake up in the bottom of the seventh when they scored a run thanks to Arruebarruena’s hit combined with an error by center fielder Ben DeLuzio that allowed him to reach third base. Lorenzo Quintana responded with a line drive to center in what was the first Cuban hit with men in scoring position in the entire tournament.
Despite continuing to threaten, once again Yoan Moncada was retired with men in scoring position, for the third time in the game. But Moncada himself would be in charge of preventing two runs for the Italians, because in the eighth, with men on second and third, he caught a Nicky Lopez’s shrapnel hit to Raidel Martinez that had all the chances of becoming an extra-base hit.
Cuba evened the score in the bottom of the eighth thanks to a double by Alfredo Despaigne and a towering rocket by Erisbel Arruebarruena, who had participated in the two Cuban runs, scoring one and driving in the other.
Raidel Martínez worked the eighth and ninth without major difficulties, but in the tenth, with the ghost runner rule, the situation became more tense. A stolen base and a single gave Italy the lead against a Raidel who was not used to working so many innings.
With Onelkis Garcia coming in, came Italy’s fourth tally. Dominic Fletcher doubled home John Valente and forced Cuba to swing for the fences to try to get their first victory in the World Baseball Classic. But if two were too much, Nicky Lopez’s two-run single to center center that drove in two more, put the real nail in the coffin of the game.
The tenth for Cuba was pure formality. Yoan Moncada was unable to produce for the fourth time in the game, Luis Robert singled to right and brought in Yoelkis Guibert but the damage was already done.
With this defeat Cuba suffers its second loss and they no longer depend on themselves to try to qualify for the second round. Even if they manage to win the two remaining games, they would have to rely on the results of the other teams to stay in the competition.
Everything seems to indicate that this will be Cuba’s worst performance in WBC history, since during the first four editions the Cuban team always qualified to the second round of the tournament.