Canada hangs on to knock out Cuba, advance to Super Round
Connor Panas tallied two hits and two RBIs, Michael Crouse belted a solo homer, and Canada held on late to defeat Cuba, 6-5, and clinch a berth in the Baseball Americas Qualifier Super Round later this week. With the loss, Cuba will miss out on Olympic baseball for the first time since the sport entered the Olympic Games in 1992.
Coming off its combined no-hitter in a 7-0 win over Colombia on Monday night, Canada started quickly at the plate on Tuesday. The world’s No. 13 team sent eight batters to the dish in the first inning and got hits from four of them, scoring three runs to take a lead it would never relinquish on RBI base hits from Eric Wood, Panas, and Kellin Deglan.
Cuba starter Carlos Viera didn’t make it through the first, giving way to his bullpen after recording just two outs.
The cushion provided early run support for Canada starting pitcher Ryan Kellogg, who worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings, scattering five hits.
Canada added a run in the fourth on Panas’ second RBI single of the day to center field.
Cuba got on the board in the fifth when Roel Santos led off with a double to left and scored two batters later on a double-play ball off the bat of Yordanis Samon, but Tuesday’s home team struggled to narrow the gap.
After Canada reclaimed Cuba’s first run on Crouse’s homer to left-center with two outs in the seventh, Cuba came through with its biggest offensive frame of the night, plating two in the seventh on an RBI groundout by Yadil Mujica and RBI single by Samon to cut Canada’s lead, briefly, to 5-3.
In the eighth, Canada again added a crucial insurance run. J.D. Osborne walked to lead off the inning and made his way around the bases on Tyson Gillies’ groundout back to the mound, a wild pitch, and Jacob Robson’s RBI single through the left side.
Down to their last three outs and trailing by three runs, Cuba’s hitters made one final stand. Raico Santos singled to lead off the ninth and went first-to-third on Roel Santos’ one-out single to left two batters later. With the potential tying run coming to the plate, Cuba went to its bench to summon legendary slugger Frederich Cepeda. The 41-year-old put a charge into a ball to right field but settled for a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 6-4.
Canada went to its bullpen one last time and brought on veteran Major Leaguer John Axford to pitch to Samon with two outs and a runner at first. Samon bounced a ball back over the mound, and Axford’s wild throw to first got away from Panas, enabling Roel Santos to score. But with Lisban Correa at the plate, Axford buckled down and notched a game-ending strikeout to eliminate Cuba and send Canada on to the Super Round.
Cuba had medaled in every Olympics since 1992 including gold in ’92, ’96, and 2004.
Canada, which has never medaled in Olympic baseball, advances to the Super Round along with Venezuela from Group B. They will meet the United States and the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua as the two entrants from Group A.
(Top Photo of Team Canada: Ray Otero)