Cuba finally found its firepower against an overmatched Chinese pitching staff, putting up crooked numbers in the fourth and fifth innings on their way to a 12-0 mercy rule-shortened victory. José Abreu mashed a grand slam and Alexei Bell ripped a two-run homer to qualify Cuba for the second round.
Danny Betancourt started on the mound for Cuba and was dominant through 4 2/3, ensuring that China never had a chance to get any momentum offensively. He struck out eight, two shy of the WBC record, and allowed only one hit and a walk.
Cuba got on the board quickly in the first as José Fernández reached on an error and scored on a triple by Frederich Cepeda to the warning track in right centre. The red-and-blue loaded the bases in the second, but China’s starter Xin Li battled out of the jam.
Fernández stroked a single to start the third and scored on a safety by Abreu, but Li would once more escape the predicament. Li would finally be reached in the fourth after a series of strange events.
Báarbaro Arruebarruena legged out an infield hit to lead off the inning, and reached second on a throwing error by Li. China then tried to appeal that the Cuban shortstop had missed first base after stepping on Fujia Chu’s foot, but the umpires had to tell them to throw to first to complete the appeal. After discussion with China manager John McLaren and Li via interpreter, the appeal was denied. Once McLaren left the field, Arruebarruena sped off to third and swiped the bag before a pitch was thrown.
Two batters later, Alexei Bell ripped a home run to left centre, making the score 4-0. Li allowed another single to Fernández before exiting the game. Yu Liu relieved and Cepeda laced a ground-rule double down the left field line. Two batters later, Alfredo Despaigne thumped another two-bagger to the same area to plate both runners. Liu would get out of the inning, but not before Cuba had a 6-0 advantage.
The red-and-blue broke the game wide open in the fifth. Liu got the first out, but walked Arruebarruena. A hit by Guillermo Heredia and a walk to Yasmany Tomás loaded the bases before Fernández had his third hit of the day. The single to deep right plated two.
Cepeda walked to once more jam the sacks full, but Abreu unloaded them with a monstrous grand slam to left-centre. The blast travelled well over 400 feet. Liu retired the next two batters, but Cuba had a 12-0 lead.
Three Cuban relievers closed out the game, combining with Betancourt on the three-hit shutout. The red-and-blue settled for the 12-run mercy rule victory, though they put two runners on in the sixth.
Abreu led the squad with five RBI, falling short of Ken Griffey, Jr.’s WBC record of seven. Fernández paced Cuba with three hits and four runs scored, driving in two. Abreu was one of four players with a hitting brace, as was Despaigne, who drove in two. Cepeda upped his career average in the WBC to .457 with a double and a triple, two of six extra-base knocks by Cuba.
Betancourt accounted for all of Cuba’s strikeouts, earning his first WBC victory. Yadier Pedroso got four outs around a hit and a walk, and Vladimir García and Alexander Rodríguez finished off the game.
Li threw 3 1/3 innings, giving up four earned runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out two, and pitched much better than his line would suggest, keeping Cuba off balance until the fourth. Liu was shelled for seven runs on five hits and three walks in 1 2/3. Song Ran gave up two hits in a scoreless sixth.
“Baseball is new in China,” McLaren told the media after China’s first game. “The guys play really hard. We are just trying to get better every day.”
China will attempt to avoid relegation to the qualifying rounds against Brazil on Mar. 5 at 8 a.m. GMT. The loser of the contest will have to earn a place in the 2017 WBC via a play-in tournament, while the winner will guarantee their spot.
Cuba and Japan will tangle to see who wins Pool A in the final game of the group. First pitch is scheduled for 10 a.m. GMT on Mar. 6. Stay tuned for more news, reviews, and analysis.