Cuba Clinches Second Round Berth in World Baseball Classic; Korea Stays Alive

Koji Watanabe

Cuba's big win over China clinches a second round berth for both themselves and Japan. Korea keeps their hopes alive with a relatively easy win over Australia.

After two days of great baseball in the World Baseball Classic, all I can say is that every tournament can have a bad day.

Cuba vs. China

In the first game of this tournament ended by the mercy rule, Cuba destroyed an outmatched China team, 12-0 in six and a half innings.

Cuba's talent easily outclassed China and it showed. Additionally, China saved their best pitchers for their upcoming game against Brazil, which they considered to be a more winnable game. China's goal at this point is to win one game and avoid having to go through qualifiers for the 2017 WBC.

Despite that, China managed to hold Cuba to only single runs in the first and third innings, despite having the potential for big innings both times. But Chinese pitcher Xin Li managed to keep a Cuban runner on third from scoring in both innings.

But Cuba blew the game open in the fourth inning when right fielder Alexi Bell deposited a pitch in the second row of the left field bleachers for a two-run home run. Li was relieved by Yu Liu after allowing one more single, but Liu allowed doubles to DH Frederich Cepeda and left fielder Alfred Despaigne to extend Cuba's lead to 6-0 in the fourth.

Cuba scored six times in the fifth inning to put the game away. The big blow was a deep grand slam by first baseman Jose Abreu, considered by many to be a potential major league all-star. After that the score was 12-0 and both teams seemed to just be playing out the final inning and a half until the mercy rule could be applied.

The winning pitcher for Cuba was Danny Betancourt, who went 4.2 innings and allowed only one hit, to Triple-A veteran Ray Chang, and one walk. He struck out eight, including six in a row during the third and fourth innings. He was visibly upset when he was pulled from the game in the fifth inning until his manager apparently pointed out that he had hit the pitch count limit, and then he looked embarrassed that he had forgotten the rule.

The Chinese team was inexperienced and it deeply showed. Two incidents showed the Chinese team's unfamiliarity with the game. The first was in the second inning after first baseman Fujia Chu reached on a fielder's choice and stole second base without a throw after the Cuban catcher dropped the pitch. However, Chu saw the ball on the ground and assumed that the pitch had been a foul ball. He was easily thrown out as he retreated to first base.The official scorecard says Chu was caught stealing second, but really, he was caught trying to steal first base.

The second issue came in fourth inning after shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena lead off the inning by reaching second base on a bunt single and an error. The Chinese team thought Arruebarruena missed touching first base and tried to appeal. However, they didn't know the procedure for an appeal at first base so the umpires stopped the game, brought out China manager John McLaren and a translator and had him explain to pitcher Xin Li the proper procedure. So Li stepped on the rubber, stepped off and threw to first according to the proper procedure. Unfortunately, not only did the umpire rule that Arruebarruena had stepped on first base (and replays indicated that he had), Arruebarruena stole third base during the throw to first. I've never seen that in a baseball game before.

Abreu was 2 for 5 with a home run, a double and five RBI. Center fielder Guillermo Heredia was 2 for 4 with a walk. Second baseman Jose Fernandez went 3 for 4, scored four runs and knocked two home.

The Cuban win clinches a trip to the second round for them and Japan, turning their showdown on Wednesday into a glorified exhibition for seeding. However, it sets up a big battle on Tuesday between China and Brazil. Both teams are looking for a win that would guarantee them a spot in the 2017 tournament. The loser will be forced to go through the preliminary qualification rounds.

Korea vs. Australia

Facing a must-win game, Korea took care of business early by scoring three times in the first inning and easily beating Australia, 6-0.

The starter for Australia was Cubs farmhand Ryan Searle, who pitched for Daytona, Tennessee and Iowa last season. But Searle got in trouble after a one-out double and walk by Korea loaded the bases. A bloop single to left field by left fielder Hyunsoo Kim scored two and after Searle hit the next batter, third baseman Jeong Choi, another run scored when Australia failed to convert a 5-4-3 double play.

Korea would tack on another run off of Searle in the second inning on a double by first baseman Seung Youp Lee. Searle would pitch a scoreless third inning, only hitting Choi again, but by then the damage had been done. Searle took the loss after throwing three innings and allowing four runs on four hits. He walked two and struck out two.

Korean starter Seung Song got the win after pitching four scoreless innings, giving up two hits and two walks

Korea would go on to tack on single runs in the seventh and nine inning. Korean DH Dae Ho Lee was 3 for 5. First baseman Seung Youp Lee went 3 for 4 with a walk and two doubles.

The Korean win keeps their second round hopes alive, but they'll need Australia to beat the Netherlands or they'll need to beat Chinese Taipei by six runs or more. That game will be played tomorrow morning at 5:30 Chicago time.

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