March 19, 2006


Cuba, Japan Advance to WBC Title Game (Dave Sheinin. 3/19/06, Washington Post)

[T]he WBC [has] brought together 16 national teams -- including a handful, such as the United States, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, whose rosters were loaded with multimillionaire major league players -- for three weeks of often inspired play.

Japan's hard-fought victory over archrival South Korea in the night game --which avenged one-run losses in each of the tournament's first two rounds -- was a perfect example.

Crisp pitching and suberb defense kept the game scoreless until the top of the seventh, when Japan pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukudome smashed a two-run homer off South Korea reliever Byung Hyun Kim, launching Japan to a five-run inning. Seattle Mariners superstar Ichiro Suzuki contributed an RBI single in the inning, as Japan silenced the sizeable pro-Korea segment of the announced crowd of 42,639.

For Kim, the outing bore an uncomfortable resemblance to his last appearance on a stage as big as this one. In the 2001 World Series, while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kim served up titanic home runs to New York Yankees Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius -- the first two of which lost Game 4, and the last of which blew Game 5.

Although Cuba has long dominated Asian teams in international play, in the last major meeting between the teams Japan beat Cuba, 6-3, in the 2004 Olympics. Cuba, however, rebounded to win the gold medal.

Scouts, international baseball experts and even some Cuban ex-patriots in the big leagues predicted the Cuban team -- despite having dominated international baseball for generations -- would lose early in the WBC when matched against the best talent in the world. Meantime, Castro, Cuba's polarizing dictator, predicted certain victory.

In Saturday's semifinal, Cuba merely outlasted its more renowned opponent, taking advantage of a throwing error on Dominican third baseman Adrian Beltre and surging to a three-run seventh inning against the Dominicans' bullpen. Two Cuban pitchers, right-handers Yadel Marti and Pedro Lazo, combined to hold the powerful Dominican lineup -- anchored by sluggers Albert Pujols, Miguel Tejada and David Ortiz -- to eight hits and no earned runs.

Lazo's penultimate pitch of the game, to Dominican pinch hitter Alfonso Soriano, was a fastball that lit up the radar gun at 152 kilometers per hour (or 95 mph) for strike two, and he followed that with a 138-kph (86-mph) slider. Fooled by the pitch, Soriano tried unsuccessfully to check his swing.

"They are not professionals," Soriano said, "but they play like professionals. We are professionals, but we are not in very good shape."

Having watched the entire game from the top step of their dugout, Lazo's joyous teammates were already halfway to the mound when the umpires ruled that Soriano, the Washington Nationals' newly acquired slugger, had gone around for strike three. The Cubans gathered near the mound in a giant, teeming huddle, then -- suddenly and oddly -- most of the players were on their backs on the ground, kicking their legs in the air like overturned beetles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 19, 2006 9:58 AM

Isn't the baseball season already long enough without this?

Posted by: erp at March 19, 2006 10:28 AM

If they had gone face down and started kicking their legs, I would have figured they were trying to dig escape tunnels.

Posted by: John at March 19, 2006 11:17 AM

Wait a sec, you mean Soriano swung at a slider a foot off the plate to end a big game?

Never seen that before.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 19, 2006 12:23 PM

The Classic is the best thing that ever happened to America (and of course to America's game).

The only blemish from a personal perspective is the WBC capitulating to China and forcing Taiwan (a freedom-loving democracy of 22 million people) again to pretend she does not exist. And if it is not thought to be so distresng to wear uniforms that say "Chinese Taipei," then field the American team with their uniforms blazoned with "British/Spanish/Dutch/French Washington, DC".

Posted by: Brother Qiao at March 19, 2006 1:35 PM


Perhaps the editors at the Post took the day off.

Posted by: old maltese at March 19, 2006 1:39 PM