By Jerry Díaz
Cuba and Taiwan played the match corresponding to the last date of the First Round of the World Baseball Classic. The Cubans were far superior in all aspects of play in the challenge staged at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium. The “Pool of Chaos” scenario envisioned by many saw all five teams tied up with 2-2, and Cuba moved to Round 2 as head seed, followed by Italy.
Cuba jumped out to an early lead, scoring six in the first two innings.
Cuba stung Taiwan in WBC with a homerun by Arruebarruena
Roel Santos gave up the first out with a groundout. The offensive machine started to produce when Yoan Moncada hit a line drive to center field that left on the first hop for a ground-rule double. Luis Robert Jr. reached first base on an error by shortstop Kun Yu Chiang.
With two runners on base, Alfredo Despaigne hit another two-bagger through the gap between center and right that allowed Moncada and Robert Jr. to score.
Erisbel Arruebarruena hit a slider off starter Shih Peng Chen at 83 mph. The Cienfuegos native took the ball out of the parl 408 feet down the middle. With the hit, he drove in Despaigne and made the score four for zero since the first inning.
Cuba scored four when it had barely given up one out.
In the second inning they stretched the difference to six. Yadir Drake opened the inning with a single to right and Yadil Mujica followed suit. With two on base, Mujica was forced in the middle by a Roel Santos’ roller that in turn drove in Drake. Roel was put out on an attempted steal.
Then with two outs and clean bases Yoan Moncada hit an 88 mph cutter off Kuan Wei Chen and sent the ball over the fences in right field. The homer traveled 369 feet.
Pitching was almost perfect. Elian Leyva, Miguel Romero, Onelki García, Liván Moinelo and Raidel Martínez combined to control Taiwan’s hitters. The Chinese hit just four hits. The final score was seven to one.
At bat, Arruebarruena and Moncada were especially outstanding with their homeruns. In addition, Alfredo Despaigne with a pair of RBIs.
With this victory, Cuba’s chances of qualifying increased if the pool of chaos scenario came to be. The win of the Italians forced to take out the calculators because the five members of the pool ended tied with two wins and two losses. In the end, Cuba advanced first and the Italians second, leaving out the Netherlands, which had been semifinalists in the two previous editions.
What started looking as potentially the worst disappointment for the Cubans in WBC history, ended up making them move to the second round as the top seed. The tight score of their losses and the comfortable lead of their wins was indeed the top factor.