Miami. Less than 24 hours after his thrilling win over Venezuela in the quarter finals of the World Baseball Classic on Saturday, the USA will return to the charge on Sunday night in the first semifinal of the tournament at 7 pm ET against Cuba.
It will be the first time in the history of the World Classic that both countries with face.
With veteran Adam Wainwright taking the mound to open the game, the USA—the defending champions of the event—will try to reach next Tuesday’s grand final at loanDepot park.
In his World Classics debut on March 11, Wainwright claimed victory with 4.0 innings of five hits and one run against Great Britain in Pool C at Phoenix.
In fact, the United States All-Star team has lost only once in this tournament, against Mexico on the 12th at Chase Field. Now, with all the do-or-die games, the Americans are one step away from the grand finale.
In that vein, US manager Mark DeRosa revealed that Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts met with him and asked him to coach as if they were in the World Series.
“That tells me these guys are fully committed to this,” DeRosa said. “You have to match the energy in the building or they’re going to beat you.”
The defending champion of this event will be playing on back-to-back days, having used six relievers to navigate the last five innings of their win over Venezuela on Saturday in the quarterfinals. DeRosa says that by Sunday, he and his coaching staff “will be able to cover it” with what they have available, which remains a deep pitching staff of major league starters and relievers.
Cuba ready to resume its good rhythm.
After arriving in Florida from Asia this week, the Cuban team had a few days to readjust to the Western Hemisphere and do some practice. For Cuba, this World Classic has been a roller coaster of emotions. After losing their first two matches in Group A in Chinese Taipei against the Netherlands and Italy, manager Armando Johnson’s troupe won their last two first-round matches with a 20-5 aggregate score against Chinese Taipei and Panama, winning said key for the calculations of runs allowed by outs made to defense.
Then on Wednesday, the Cubans beat Australia in Japan in the do-or-die quarterfinals to earn the right to play the first semifinal in Miami. With a mix of players who belong to the island’s baseball and compatriots who have played in the Major Leagues–some of the likes of Luis Robert Jr., Yoán Moncada and Yoenis Céspedes–Cuba has reached the semifinals for the first time since 2006 , when he lost in the grand final vs. Japan.
For the game against the United States, he will go for the Cubans on the mound Roenis Elías, a veteran of parts of seven major league seasons. In two appearances (one start) in this tournament, the lefty has allowed four hits and two runs (2.57 ERA).
After such a long trip and several days with no gaming activity, how will Johnson’s troop be impacted?
“I think the days without playing are not going to affect us,” said veteran slugger Alfredo Despaigne, who is hitting .412/.389/.588 in four games in this Classic. “We are making adjustments. We are warriors and we are going to fight”.
Another factor to take into account is the political situation. Being this team a direct representation of the country—and playing against nothing more and nothing less than the United States—a divided atmosphere is expected between Cubans residing in Miami who will support the team and those who would take advantage of the event to carry out a kind of protest against. For the players, the main thing is to play baseball.
“I think it shouldn’t affect anything,” Despaigne said when the subject was put to him. “The fundamental thing about us is baseball. After the two lines back, we are not interested in anything, just concentrate on the game.
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Added manager Johnson: “The athletes are focused on what they really have to do, which is baseball. They are well focused on that and I think they are going to give everything so that the public that comes against them also enjoys a good game”.