Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Cuba, Japan reach inaugural Classic final

SEMIFINALS There were spontaneous celebrations around Havana after the national team defeated the Dominican Republic, while Japan's sluggers cruised past South Korea

AP , SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA AND HAVANA

Cuba's Leslie Anderson, bottom, and Alexei Ramirez celebrate after defeating the Domincan Republic 3-1 in the semifinal game of the World Baseball Classic at Petco Park in San Diego, California. Cuba will face Japan in today's final.

PHOTO: AFP

Cuba defeated the Dominican Republic 3-1 on Saturday to reach the championship game of the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

Cuba, champion of the 2005 World Cup, 2004 Olympics and 2003 Pan American Games played in Santo Domingo, will play Japan in the championship of the 16-team Classic tonight at Petco Park.

Japan beat South Korea 6-0 in the second game of the semifinals doubleheader.

Koji Uehara pitched seven shutout innings for Japan while South Korea's Kim Byung-hyun gave up another big home run on Saturday night, a two-run shot by pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukudome in the seventh inning that broke a scoreless tie and sent Japan to victory.

Osmani Urrutia hit a tiebreaking single in the seventh inning, and Yadel Marti capped his sensational tournament by combining with Pedro Lazo on an eight-hitter for Cuba.

Cuba, wearing its lucky red uniforms for only the second time in the tournament, avenged a 7-3 loss to the Dominicans from five days earlier and moved within one victory of adding another title to the country's long list of baseball accomplishments.

Chants of "Cuba! Cuba!" began in the late innings from the crowd of 41,268 for a squad with no major leaguers. The Cubans sprinted onto the field to celebrate when Lazo struck out pinch-hitter Alfonso Soriano to end it.

After hugs and high-fives, the Cubans acknowledged their fans by waving their caps.

American League Cy Young pitching award winner Bartolo Colon pitched six shutout innings for the Dominican Republic, eliminated despite an All-Star roster that also included Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Tejada and David Ortiz.

Shouting "Long Live Cuba!" and forming conga lines, Cuban baseball fans rushed into the streets to celebrate their team's victory over the Dominican Republic.

Some ecstatic fans waved red, white and blue Cuban flags. Others beat pots and pans while dancing the conga outside their homes after their national team earned a spot in the final.

Huge roars of delight echoed into the streets from bars where people watched the game on state television, which carried the ESPN signal live across the island of 11.2 million.

The few cars still on the streets when the game ended honked their horns, and Cuban flags fluttered out of the windows of a few.

"The gold's coming here!" fan Fernando Luis shouted out into the street after watching the game on a TV set up on an apartment terrace.

"I am so emotional," Ines Padilla, mother of Cuban center fielder Carlos Tabares, said after watching the game at the family's Havana home. "I bless my son and I tell you that his late father is with him."

Many of Cuba's other well-known athletes were celebrating as well.

"Yes, I do think we will win the Classic," said retired high jumper Javier Sotomayor, a world record holder and Olympic champion. "But it will be harder for them now because they will be more relaxed and have tremendous confidence."

Yoandry Garlobo had three hits, and Alexei Ramirez and Frederich Cepeda each drove in runs in their team's decisive seventh inning that featured several mistakes by the Dominicans right after they took a 1-0 lead in the sixth on an unearned run.

The Cubans had to wait until the Dominicans went to their bullpen following six shutout innings by reigning Colon to get anything going offensively.

The Dominicans got a break in the sixth when Cuban second baseman Yulieski Gourriel failed to cleanly field a routine grounder by Beltre, then rushed the throw to first and the ball sailed over Ariel Borrero. Tejada scored on the misplay for a 1-0 lead.

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