Cuba pulls away for crucial Classic victory

March 10th, 2023

TAICHUNG, Taiwan -- Cuba knew what it had to do hours before its matchup against Panama in Pool A of the World Baseball Classic.

“We’re motivated to win today,” manager Armando Johnson said. “Everybody is physically and mentally ready.”

And win they did. 

After a creeping, back-and-forth affair for five innings, Cuba pulled away and knocked off Panama, 13-4, for a crucial WBC victory.

Cuba scored first, taking an early 2-0 lead with runs in both the first and second innings. Doubles by and off Panama’s starter Andy Otero got things going.

But then, in the bottom of the second, Panama scored four.

Veteran leader , who’s had a great week both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, kicked things off with a long two-run home run to left-center field.

After loading the bases on two walks and a single, Panama was threatening again minutes later. , who played in the Reds’ system last year, lined a scorching single to right field.

Momentum, all of sudden, seemed to shift in Panama’s favor. But then, in the sixth and seventh innings, Cuba’s bats woke up.

Armando Johnson's squad loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the sixth. Yadir Drake singled to get within one and Mujica knocked in the tying run with a sacrifice fly to center. 

And then, after days of getting questions why they weren’t hitting, Cuba’s Major Leaguers came through at the right time.

knocked in the go-ahead run with a single to right and  gave the Cubans some cushion with another base hit to the right side.

Not thinking two runs was a big enough lead, Cuba came back in the top of the seventh to put up five more. Mujica added two more RBIs on a knock to right (he had two hits and four RBIs on the day) and Moncada tacked on to his already big performance with a two-run single. He finished with three hits and four runs batted in.

Robert added an RBI groundout later in the frame and Drake, 4-for-4 in the game, had an RBI single in the eighth.

The victory gives Cuba (1-2) its first win of Pool A and a chance, if it wins its last game, to still advance to Round 2 in Tokyo. Panama (1-2) must also win its final contest to have any hope. Both teams need help from the other teams in their bracket.

Cuba's next matchup is against Chinese Taipei (0-1) here on Sunday (11 p.m. ET Saturday, FS2), while Panama takes on Italy (1-0) on Saturday (11 p.m. ET Friday, FS1). The Netherlands (2-0) is also in Pool A. Each team faces the other four in round-robin play, with the pool's winner and runner-up advancing to the quarterfinals in Tokyo against the top teams from Pool B.