On to the semis! Cuba in Classic final four

March 16th, 2023

TOKYO -- Cuba and Australia -- two countries that have had close one-run matches in past World Baseball Classics -- were fighting on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals in Miami.

The matchup, like the two before, ended up being another thrilling one-run contest, and another victory for Cuba, 4-3. Manager Armando Johnson’s team will be heading to Miami for its first Classic semifinal game since 2006.

"Our aim is go to the final, and now we have a chance to challenge to go for the final ... we will do our best in Miami," Johnson said.

This has been an amazing turnaround for Team Cuba, which came out on top in Pool A after overcoming two straight losses to the Netherlands and Italy to open the WBC.

"The first couple games of the Taiwan round, it was ... difficult to play," said right fielder Yoelkis Guibert. "But we got through it, and we [clinched a spot in] the semifinal. ... We are looking forward to move to the next stage, too."

Supporters from both sides made the long trek to Japan’s Tokyo Dome. The Horn Guy showed up to pump up the Cuban fans in attendance, while quite possibly the cutest fan in the entire tournament was in town to cheer on her dad and every Aussie batter who stepped into the box.

"The Cuban baseball fans are so emotional right now," Johnson said. "They have been waiting for a long time. ... Everybody loves baseball so much and they cheered us so well. So this is the new page, new chapter that we could go forward. This team, we had a lot of hard workouts and we succeeded in moving forward to the semifinals."

Australia scored first in the top of the second when Darryl George doubled and came home on a Rixon Wingrove RBI single.

Cuba tied it up on a Luis Robert Jr. groundout in the third, and then extended its lead in the fifth with three runs. Alfredo Despaigne smacked a sacrifice fly to right, and Guibert lined a two-run single through the right side. The Cuban dugout was as animated as it's been all week.

The Aussies, propelled by their ever-fervent fanbase, refused to give up. Wingrove, a Phillies prospect, stepped up to the plate in the top of the sixth and blasted one out to right-center field for a two-run shot that would pull Australia back to within a run.

"Right now, I'm very disappointed," manager Dave Nilsson said. "... we had opportunities to win that game and we just couldn't get it done. We did a lot of things very well, played very well ... you have to at this point tip your hat to Cuba, they took advantage of our shortfalls. We played a great game and just couldn't get there."

That was all the Down Underdogs could muster against Raidel Martinez, who pitches for the Chunichi Dragons in Nippon Professional Baseball and closed out the win, and Cuba’s line of fireballing bullpen arms.

"I would like to show my respect to Team Australia," Johnson said. "... They have a great starting pitcher and bullpen. But also at the same time, two of our relievers, [Miguel] Romero and Martinez, they did a great job, too."

Cuba will move on to face the winner of Venezuela-USA in Miami on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.