Cuba defeats Panama for first World Baseball Classic win
Cuba plays Chinese Taipei on Saturday with the possibility of advancing to the second round
During the second inning, when Panama scored four runs to oust Cuban starter Ronald Bolaos, the Cuban national team looked destined to leave the V World Baseball Classic early.
With their ballplay lacking in quality, the Cubans did not look like real contenders to win their first game of the tournament.
However, the team's goal was clear.
The game began with both teams scoring alternately. First time at the World Classic, Cuba became ruthless with its offensive, setting a new personal record of hits (21) for the team, disposing of Panama by a huge margin, 13-4.
Cuba is now 2-0 in the World Classics against Panama, with the other win coming on March 8, 2006, when both teams played their first match.
Against left-handed starter Andy Otero, the Cubans scored in the first two innings with doubles by Alfredo Despaigne and Yadil Mujica, the latter having to review the video after being declared foul on a line drive from left field.
In the bottom half of the second inning, however, Panama's hitters, facing the Cuban starter Ronald Bolano, pulled off an impressive comeback. Rubén Tejeda homered with a runner on base to tie the game.
Minutes later, Panama seemed destined to eliminate Cuba, loading the bases with two walks and a single, and sending Bolaños back to the dugout. For the Cuban starter, it turned out to be the least impressive start by a Cuban pitcher in this WBC edition. The mandatory 65 pitches were not even completed by Bolanos.
Allen Córdova would seal the Panamanian rally with a two-run rocket to the right, putting Panama ahead 4-2. It would be the last time Panama would score.
With seven zeros on the board, Cuban relievers put pressure on the Panamanian bats, helped by ruthless offense starting in the sixth inning.
Cuba loaded the bases with no outs in that sixth inning, only for Yadir Drake - who was 4-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs scored in the game - to drive in the what brought Cuba closer to 4-3.
Following him, Yadiel Mujica's sacrifice fly to center gave Cuba the tying run. It was in this situation that Cuba's bats came to the rescue, both in the names of Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who came up with back-to-back singles to right field, to give Cuba a 6-4 lead they would never surrender.
The score would rise to 11-4 an inning later as Cuba scored five runs.
Against a nervous Panamanian relief pitcher, Mujica singled to right field for another two runs.
With a single to left, Moncada drove in two other Cubans, and Luis Robert brought in Santos from third with a ground ball to third base.
With the bases loaded in the eighth, Drake singled to right field, bringing one more.
Cuba's victory was an important first step, and now the only option is to keep winning. The Caribbean will play Chinese Taipei this Saturday, when the host country will be the opponent, in a game scheduled for 11:00 pm (Havana time and Eastern US time). As for Panama, it will face Italy at 11:00 PM on Friday.