Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Cubans win to book Japan showdown

HEROES IN HAVANA Cuba’s victory over Mexico made them a top seed for the next phase of the World Baseball Classic, along with Olympic champions South Korea

AFP , SAN DIEGO

Jorge Cantu of Mexico breaks his bat as he grounds out against pitcher Miguel Lahera of Cuba during their World Baseball Classic match on Thursday at the Estadio Foro Sol in Mexico City. Cuba won 16-4.

PHOTO: AFP

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro has got the rematch he wanted. Now defending World Baseball Classic champion Japan will have a chance to make him regret it.

Cuba routed hosts Mexico 16-4 in a Thursday game halted after seven innings by the mercy rule to book a second-round date with Japan tomorrow, the same day Mexico will open against reigning Olympic champion South Korea.

The Japanese “Samurai” will face unbeaten Cuba, seeking a 39th consecutive trip to a global tournament final, in the same stadium where they defeated the Cubans in the final of the inaugural Classic.

Castro had said that he hoped Cuba would have the chance for revenge against Japan for the 2006 loss and that the teams might meet again for this year’s title, sentiments echoed by Cuban manager Higinio Velez after the triumph.

“We’re actually fulfilling both things,” Velez said. “It’s the repeat game. It’s a chance for us to get back at them and this might be an anticipated final.”

“We’re not worried. We know what their quality is. We respect them. We’re going to just be ready and work out,” he said.

Two teams from San Diego will advance to the semi-finals as will two from the Miami second-round group that begins play today when Puerto Rico face the US and Venezuela play the Netherlands.

Velez was reluctant to compare this year’s Cuban team to the 2006 runner-up squad that made a point by reaching the final of the first event to feature US elite Major League Baseball talent.

“I don’t think one is better than the other,” he said. “I don’t like to compare the team in that first Classic. That team fulfilled its goal. It was a team of men but not a team of names. It was the best we had. Today this is our best.”

Cuba’s victory on Thursday made them a top seed while the Koreans’ 1-0 win over Japan on Monday put them in the same position.

Yulieski Gourriel drove in four runs, including a two-run homer in the fourth, in Thursday triumph. Ariel Pestano and Miguel Enriquez each drove in three runs and Frederich Cepeda blasted a three-run homer.

Meanwhile, South Korea lost 4-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday in a tune up game, a day after they were ripped 10-4 by San Diego.

Lee Jim-young and Kim Hyun-soo drove in runs for the Koreans while Jang Wonsam pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings for the Asian team.

Taiwan’s Kuo Hong-chih pitched for the Dodgers while countryman Hu Chin-lung hit a two-run single for Los Angeles in the eighth inning.

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