Semifinal time! With a 4-3 victory over Australia, Cuba is in the final four of the Classic
As a result, the team advances to its second semifinal in history and faces a yet-unknown opponent
A World Classics game between Australia and Cuba, decided once again by one race, couldn't be any other way.
Once again, the Caribbean islanders won. There are times when history repeats itself.
Cuba will play its second semifinal in history next Sunday, March 19, in Miami, while Australia takes pride in having achieved its best performance in history in these tournaments.
As expected, there was a clash between two old friends in international competitions. Against Cuban starter Yariel Rodríguez, Australia scored first on Darryl George's double and Rixon Wingrove's RBI single to right in the top of the second inning.
With two outs in the third, Yariel's lack of command led him to load the bases, but the right-hander ended the threat by retiring George on a ground ball to Arruebarrena at shortstop. A great opportunity was missed by Australia's offense, which ultimately cost them the game.
Cuba would respond quickly in the bottom of the third inning against right-hander Mitch Neunborn. Roel Santos received a walk and moved to third on Yoán Moncada's double off the left-field wall, a shot that appeared to leave the park for a moment, before reaching home on Luis Robert's grounder to short.
When Despaigne moved Moncada to third base in a splendid defense play by Australian second baseman Robbie Glendinning, Cuba might have extended the lead, but Erisbel Arruebarrena struck out to end the inning.
With one out Yariel was removed from the game after he issued two walks in the fourth inning. Luis M. Romero, one of the best relievers in the Cuban bullpen, ended the threat by striking out Robbie Perkins and dominating Ulrich Bojarski on a fly out to Arruebarrena at short. Romero would be credited with the win.
In the fifth inning, the game will be decided. Santos singled to center, Moncada walked, prompting reliever Josh Guyer to take the mound, who hit Luis Robert to load the bases. Then Alfredo Despaigne, the captain of the Cuban team, sent a liner to right field, deep enough to score Santos from third and Cuba was winning 2-1. It was Despaigne's 20th RBI in World Classics history, second only to Cuban legend Frederich Cepeda (23).
Arruebarrena's left-field single would load the bases again before another reliever, Jon Kennedy, came to the mound. Then Yoelkis Guibert lined a two-RBI single through the right side in a full count that put Cuba ahead 4-1.
Australia, which has hit the most home runs in this World Classic, was not ready to give up, and found its best weapon to turn things around. It was in the sixth inning, when the Cuban manager - in a big surprise - sent left-handed Roenis Elías to the mound - supposed starter of the semifinal game in Miami - and he allowed Aaron Whitefield's single and Rixon Wingrove's two-run homer over the right-center field wall to pull Australia within 4-3.
In the end, that was all Australia could manage against Cuba. Elías pitching another inning went without incident, and then the two big Cuban relief pitchers came in.
After walking two in the eighth, Liván Moinelo struck out Bojarski and retired Tim Kennelly on a fly to right to end the inning. In the game, this was Australia's last threat.
Raidel Martínez secured the victory and the save in the ninth inning, retiring all three men he faced with two strikeouts. Cuba then celebrated as the team became semifinalists for the second time in history and first since 2006, something that seems impossible just a week ago.
At loanDepot Park in Miami, Cuba will play the semifinal next Sunday at 7:00 pm (Cuba and Eastern US Time), against an unknown opponent, who must emerge as the winner between Venezuela and the second place of Group C in the quarterfinal duel.