By Jerry Díaz
For the first time since 2006, Cuba qualified for the semifinals of the 2023 World Baseball Classic. The Antillean team defeated Australia on Wednesday, March 15 at Tokyo Dome in the Japanese capital.
Australia started with a lead
The first inning was quiet for both starting pitchers. Yariel Rodriguez for Cuba retired the side in order with two strikeouts. Steven Kent only saw Yoan Moncada reach on a base on balls.
However, in the second, the Camagüey native allowed the first run of the game. Darryl George started the inning with a 400-foot hit that hit the top of the center field fence. Thus, he was given a double. The next batter, Aaron Whitefield took him to third on a sacrifice bunt.
The first tally of the game was driven in by Rixon Wingrove’s single on a solid line to right field. The hit scored George from the third.
Cuba reacted and tied the game
In the third inning, the Cuban team managed to tie the game again and recovered the run from the Australians.
Reliever Mitch Neunborn replaced the starter. The first batter he faced, Roel Santos, was walked. The threat was made even more serious by Yoan Moncada’s double right after. The White Sox third baseman’s drive also hit the top of the fence, but in left field.
The tying run was driven in by Luis Robert with a groundout to the right of the shortstop. Although he was put out at first, the grounder was enough for Santos to score.
Decisive rally in the 5th put Cuba in the Semifinals of the World Classic
It was no coincidence that the fifth inning, when Cuba managed to come back, also opened with Roel Santos as the batter. Santos hit a single to center to start the attack. The bases were loaded with a walk to Yoan Moncada and hit by pitch to Luis Robert. On the way, Santos brought a scare when he twisted his foot on a return to first base due to the pitcher’s pickoff attempt. Fortunately, it was all just that, a scare.
Alfredo Despaigne produced again and is now only four RBIs away from equaling Frederich Cepeda as the all-time leader of the World Baseball Classic. The Santiago native hit a fly to right that served as a sacrifice fly.
After Arruebarruena’s hit, the Australians brought another reliever to the mound, left-hander Jon Kennedy to work Yoelkis Guibert.
The outfielder responded with a quality shift that concluded with a single to right. The hit scored Moncada and Robert to make the score 4-1. El Grillo was put out at third.
Then the Australians came closer with a homerun by Rixon Wingrove to Roenis Elías that put the game 4-3.
The final relievers was decisive. Both Liván Moinelo and Raidel Martínez got the outs needed to maintain the minimum difference and secure the victory.
Reaching the Semifinals represents Cuba’s best performance since 2006 when they reached the Finals. On the other hand, Australia completed the best performance in its history by passing the First Round for the first time and then, although they lost, they did it in a tight game.
Cuba’s opponent in the Semifinals will be the winner of the match between Venezuela and the runner-up in Group C, which could be Canada, Mexico or the United States.