Cepeda's big game puts Cuba in Caribbean Series final
Veteran goes 4-for-5 with five RBIs in comeback win against Venezuela
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- This is what Cuban baseball fans were expecting all week.
Pinar de Rio designated hitter Frederich Cepeda put on a show on Saturday night at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, living up to his reputation as big-time player on the international stage.
The Cuban national team star had four hits and five RBIs to lead his club to an 8-4 victory against Venezuela's Caribes de Anzoategui in the semifinal to advance to the Caribbean Series championship game against Mexico's Tomateros de Culiacan (3-2) on Sunday afternoon.
Cuba entered Saturday night's game with a 1-3 record, the worst among semifinal qualifiers, and having scored just seven runs in the first four games. It scored five runs in the seventh inning alone Saturday.
"It was an intense game from the beginning to the end," Cuba manager Alfonso Urquiola said. "We were down, 4-0, and that's the time you can see the work we put in. As you can see, it's not over until it's over, and we never gave up."
Cepeda, 33, finished 4-for-5 with two doubles and a triple. He also scored a run. The former Olympian made his debut with the Cuban national team in 2002 and quickly made a name for himself in international circles. He opened more eyes stateside with impressive performances for Cuba's World Baseball Classic teams. Cepeda played for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan last season as part of program created by the Cuban government that allows its players to play in foreign leagues.
"I've played on a lot of national teams, and I've had good moments and bad moments," Cepeda said in Spanish. "This series is important, and I'm glad we played well."
Venezuela entered the game with a 4-0 record, and it opened the scoring with a run in the third inning. The Caribes tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 4-0 lead.
It was not enough.
In the sixth, second baseman Yulieski Gourriel and left fielder Alfredo Despaigne got on base to begin the frame. One out later, both runners scored on Cepeda's triple, and the veteran rumbled home on an errant throw on the play to cut Venezuela's lead to 4-3.
In the eventful seventh, Gourriel drove in a run with a single to tie the game at 4. Cepeda hit a bases-clearing double later in the inning to give Cuba a comfortable 8-4 lead it would not relinquish.
"We all did our job and that's the main reason we won," Cepeda said.