The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
U.S. routs Cuba to reach championship game
MIAMI — Trea Turner, Paul Goldschmidt and an unrelenting U.S. lineup kept putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard, a dynamic display of the huge gap between an American team of major leaguers and Cubans struggling on the world stage as top players have left the island nation.
Turner homered twice to give him a tournament-leading four, driving in four runs to lead the U.S. to a 14-2 rout Sunday night and advance the defending champion Americans to the World Baseball Classic final.
Goldschmidt also homered and had four RBIs and Cedric Mullins went deep in a game interrupted three times by fans running on the field to display protest signs.
“The team kind of represents the government over there, and people aren’t too happy about it,” U.S. manager Mark DeRosa said.
The U.S. plays Japan or Mexico in Tuesday night’s championship, trying to join the Samurai Warriors as the only nations to win the title twice.
“I think it took us a little bit of time, but now we kind of found our stride a little bit,” Turner said.
Turner has a tournamentleading 10 RBIs. He followed his go-ahead, eighth-inning grand slam a night earlier against Venezuela with a solo homer in the second inning off Roenis Elias (0-1) and a three-run drive in the sixth against Elian Leyva.
“I kept saying every time he went deep, who is the idiot that’s hitting him ninth?” DeRosa said.
Cuba went ahead when its first four batters reached off Adam Wainwright (2-0) without getting a ball out of the infield. After forcing in a run with a walk to Alfredo Despaigne, the 41-year-old right-hander recovered to strand the bases loaded.
“I put myself in that situation in the first place by making horrible PFP plays — or not making PFP plays,” Wainwright said in a reference to pitchers’ fielding practice and two grounders he failed to come up with.
American batters had 14 hits, including eight for extra bases, and seven walks as they scored in seven of eight innings — five with multiple runs. Goldschmidt hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the first on a 112 mph rocket high over the left-field wall. He added a two-run single in the fifth.
“For me that was one of my favorite home runs I’ve ever hit in my entire life,” Goldschmidt said.
St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado left after he was hit on his right hand by a pitch in the fifth inning, briefly raising another injury concern before X-rays came back as negative. Mets closer Edwin Díaz sustained a season-ending knee injury during the celebration that followed Puerto Rico’s win on Wednesday and Houston second baseman Jose Altuve broke a thumb when hit by a pitch while playing for Venezuela on Saturday.
Fans in the sellout crowd of 35,779 at loanDepot Park sounded evenly split between the U.S. and Cuba. Several hun
dred people gathered before the game outside the ballpark in Miami’s Little Havana section to protest the presence of the Cuban team, whose country has been under communist rule since 1959.
Play was briefly interrupted in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings when fans ran onto the field. The first held a banner that read “Libertad Para Los Presos Cubanos del 11 de Julio (Freedom for the Cuban Prisoners of July 11)” referring to the date of 2021 demonstrations.
“There were provocations, but we never paid attention to it,” Cuba manager Armando Johnson said.
Cuban fans roared in the early going when their team’s first four batters strung together three infield hits and a basesloaded walk. Wainwright allowed one run and five hits in four innings. Cardinals teammate Miles Mikolas followed with four innings and Aaron Loup finished.
An Olympic gold medalist in 1992, 1996 and 2004, Cuba’s national team has faltered as many top players left for MLB. Cuba failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Cuba this year is for the first
using some players under contract to MLB clubs, including Chicago White Sox Gold Glove centerfielder Luis Robert and third baseman Yoán Moncada — who were booed. But many Cuban big leaguers were absent.
“We would like for the other players to join,” Johnson said. “They should think about it and return to Cuba.”
DeRosa on what he did after Saturday night’s come-from-behind quarterfinal win over Venezuela.
“I was reading how horrible a manager I was on social media first,” he said.
Other side of the bracket
In the other semifinal, Japan starts 21-year-old sensation Roki Sasaki against Mexico and the Los Angeles Angels’ Patrick Sandoval on Monday night.
Moncada left after the third baseman collided in the sixth inning with left fielder Roel Santos, who caught Kyle Schwarber’s fly. Moncada was hit on the ribs but is OK, Johnson said.
Arizona RHP Merrill Kelly is likely to start the final.