Taiwan accomplished the near-impossible by beating Cuba in a 4-3 thriller in Taichung on Thursday night to qualify for the medal round of the 2006 XVI Intercontinental Cup Baseball Championship.
Chang "Prince of the Forest" Tai-shan (Sinon Bulls) smashed a two-run homer and Keng Bo-hsuan threw three innings of scoreless relief to lead the way for the hosts as they topped the Cubans for only the second in the 33-year tournament history (the first ever win for Taiwan over Cuba was in the 1983 Intercontinental Cup).
The game began with the "Red Lightning" from Cuba threatening with three hits over the first two frames against Taiwanese starter Luo Cheng-long. But two key strikeouts in the first and an inning-ending double play by Taiwan were able to keep it scoreless.
Luo's luck finally ran out in the third when back-to-back singles by Cuba's Giorvis Duvergel and Eduardo Paret, coupled with a wild relay throw by outfielder Tsang Chih-yao led to Cuba's first run before Yulieski Gourriel's sacrifice fly to shallow-right made it 2-0 in Cuba's favor.
Spotted a two-run lead heading into the third, Cuban starter Dennis Suarez quickly retired the first hitter he faced on three straight strikes before issuing the first of his two walks in the inning to put runners on first and second.
In came Tsang, who promptly lined a single up the middle to score Taiwan's first run of the game before a balk by Suarez led to the second run for Taiwan, knotting things up at 2-2.
After Suarez induced a groundout to short by Chen Yong-ji that held the runner at third for the second out of the inning, the rattled Cuban hurler seemed well on his way to getting out of the inning without losing any more grounds with a slumping Chang on deck.
That was not the case as Chang got a hold of a pitch from Suarez and drilled it over the leftfield wall for a two-run homer that put Taiwan ahead 4-2.
"I knew it the second I hit it," Chang said after the game.? He was greeted by the dugout after his game-deciding swing.
Trailing by a deuce, the Cubans found themselves in unfamiliar territory, but were able to adjust against the Taiwanese pitching as they managed to score a run off reliever Tseng Song-wei in the sixth on Yoandry Urgelles' second hit of the game to make it 4-3.
That was as close as Cuba would get with Keng entering the game to start the seventh and retiring all but two of the ten batters he faced over three shutout innings to secure the narrow win for his team.
Fortunately for Taiwan two of the four hits that it belted off the Cubans came during the decisive third as Cuba actually outhit Taiwan by a whopping 10-4 margin.
Earning the memorable win for Taiwan was Tseng who allowed a run on three hits over 3-1/3 innings of play to beat Cuba's Suarez, who gave up all four of Taiwan's runs on three hits and four deadly walks in the three innings he pitched.
The rematch of Thursday night's contest between Taiwan and Cuba this evening at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung will represent one of the two games scheduled in the medal rounds this year, with Japan taking on the Netherlands in the other game.
Winners of these two games will play in tomorrow's title game while the losers will fight for third-place in a consolation game also scheduled for tomorrow.