HAVANA, March 16th Cuba earned a 7,500-mile flight to Miami for a trip to the World Baseball Classic semifinals for the first time since 2006. “Cuban baseball fans are so emotional right now. They have been waiting for a long time,” manager Armando Johnson said after a 4-3 win over Australia on Wednesday night in Tokyo. “This is the new page, new chapter.”
Alfredo Despaigne hit a tiebreaking sacrifice fly and Yoelkis Guibert followed with a two-run single in three-run fifth inning.
Using current major leaguers for the first time at the WBC, Cuba plays on Sunday in Marlins Park against the winner of a quarterfinal between Venezuela and the second-place team from Group C: Canada, Colombia, Mexico or the U.S.
Former Philadelphia Phillies prospect Rixon Wingrove, who led Australia with seven RBIs in the tournament, hit a go-ahead RBI single in the second and had a two-run homer in the sixth off the Chicago Cubs’ Roenis Elias. Australia got two on later in the sixth before Elias retired Milwaukee Brewers prospect Alex Hall on a flyout.
Elias pitched a perfect seventh, and Livan Moinelo worked around a pair of walks in a hitless eighth by striking out Ulrich Bojarski and retiring Tim Kennelly on an inning-ending flyout. Raidel Martinez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save, striking out Darryl George on the eighth pitch of the at-bat for the final out.
Before a crowd of 35,061 at the Tokyo Dome, Luis Robert tied the score for Cuba with a run-scoring groundout in the third.
Cuba, which lost the 2006 final to Japan, had been eliminated in the second round of the previous three WBCs. The Cubans won their third straight game in this tournament after losing their first two.
Australia advanced past the group stage for the first time.
“Basically, this trip is redefining Australian baseball back home and hopefully it changes the conversation,” George said. “People don’t really expect a lot from us.”