Team USA defeats Cuba to reach championship game of World Baseball Classic

·5 min read

MIAMI — There were no last-minute heroics needed this time.

No glorious comebacks.

Really, no suspense.

USA simply went out Sunday and methodically silenced Cuba, 14-2, advancing to the World Baseball Classic finals in front of a raucous, but largely peaceful, sellout crowd of 35,779 at loanDepot Park.

Team USA will play the winner of the Japan-Mexico game on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET on FOX) in a bid to repeat as WBC champions, while wondering if Trea Turner is the greatest No. 9 hitter in baseball history.

Turner, who had never started a game batting ninth in his order until this tournament, hit two more home runs with four RBI Sunday — just 24 hours after his game-winning grand slam on Saturday. His four homers are the most by a USA player in WBC history, with his 10 RBI equaling the tournament record.

Who knows, at some point, maybe Turner can actually convince someone he should be hitting a whole lot higher in the lineup.

“I would love to hit up in the order,’’ Turner says, “but this lineup's ridiculous. It doesn't matter if you're batting first, second, third, ninth, there's probably going to be guys on base in front of because the lineup's just so good.

“You never know when it's going to be your moment.’’

While Turner again stole the show on the field, heightened security inside and outside the ballpark made sure nothing could detract from the game. There were small and quiet protests outside the ballpark, voicing their anger and resentment for Cuba playing its first game in Miami, but no reported violence.

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Trea Turner (8) with teammates after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning against Team Cuba.
Trea Turner (8) with teammates after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning against Team Cuba.

Inside the ballpark, the game was briefly halted three times when protesters ran across the field. One protester, who interrupted the game in the sixth inning, held a banner that read in part: Libertad Para Los Cubanos (“Freedom for Cubans’’). One carried the Cuban flag. The other dropped his banner.

The fans cheered loudly as they were taken off the field with chants: “USA-USA-USA.’’

Team USA had braced themselves over possible political unrest before the game. USA manager Mark DeRosa asked officials what to anticipate on the bus ride to the game, but there was little visible commotion. There were scattered boos directed toward Chicago White Sox players Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who were playing for the Cuban team, and perhaps a few items from the stands thrown into the bullpen, but nothing alarming.

USA third baseman Nolan Arenado, whose father is Cuban, braced himself for all possibilities when he talked with his family about the historic game.

“We had a long discussion this morning about it,’’ said Arenado, who had two hits including a run-scoring triple. “To be quite honest with you, there's a lot of anxious feelings. We're excited to play Cuba, and if it wasn't for the sacrifices my grandparents made to get here for my parents, I don't know if I would have been the player that I am today.

“So, there's a lot of feelings I feel toward it. I respect them, I respect the players, but we have a job to do.’’

When asked what he thinks about the Cubans who elected to play on the Cuban national team, including major league players, he politely declined to offer his opinion.

“I asked people about it,’’ Arenado said. “I asked Cuban players, former players that are Cuban, what their opinion is about it. I'll probably keep that to myself.

“But listen, I think people are proud to represent their country. Just like I'm proud to represent USA and I understand why they want to do it. I think over there there's a little bit more issues and I think people have more issues with it.’’

Otherwise, there really was no drama in the game once USA starter Adam Wainwright escaped his strange first inning, with USA scoring in every inning, and at least two runs in all but one inning.

Cuba looked as if it could make life interesting for a few minutes when its first four batters reached base without hitting the ball out of the infield, leading 1-0 with the bases still loaded without an out.

Pitching coach Andy Pettitte went to the mound, settled down Wainwright, and Wainwright cruised the rest of the way. He allowed just two more hits the rest of the way, going four innings, and turning the game over to Miles Mikolas (four innings) and Aaron Loup (one inning) to close it out.

Really, it was exactly what DeRosa envisioned when he chose Wainwright, 41, the oldest player on the roster, to start the game.

“I just think nothing will faze him,’’ DeRosa said before the game. “I think he's pitched on the biggest stage, he's succeeded on the biggest stage, he wants the ball. I think that's half the battle in this.

“I tried to tell him that in my first team meeting. I said, “Listen, you're going to get smacked in the face.’ This was going to be playoff game two weeks into spring training. There's just no way to prepare for it.

“So I just think you have to be mentally tough, mentally strong, be able to execute pitches, not let the moment get too big. And he does all those things. He's done it for 20-plus years.

And he did it again Monday, on the international stage of the WBC, where he dominated Cuba.

“I’m having so much fun,’’ Wainwright says. “I can’t believe it.’’

Welcome to the club, where everyone again joined the party.

Everyone in the starting lineup either reached base or drove in a run, led by Turner and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who combined to hit three homers with eight RBI and four runs scored.

“This,’’ Goldschmidt says, “is one of the best experiences of my life.’’

Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US defeats Cuba to reach World Baseball Classic championship game