World Baseball Classic Round two, Pool one: Cuba – Japan 0-5
JPN 000 210 101 5 8 0 CUB 000 000 000 0 5 1
Japan secured the final spot in the 2009 World Baseball Classic semi-finals with a 5-0 shutout over Cuba on Wednesday evening in San Diego. It was the second time since Sunday that Team Nippon held Cuban batters without a run, a remarkable feat by their pitching. Japan will face Korea tonight in the seeding game of Pool one. Cuba is out.
To put the Cuban elimination in perspective we have to take a look at the International Baseball history. It will be their lowest finish in a big tournament since a third place in the 1951 Baseball World Cup. They had reached the past 40 finals in the big four competitions World Cup, Intercontinental Cup, Olympics and World Baseball Classic, winning 33 of them. Overall they had won 39 of 49 titles since 1939.
On Wednesday Hisashi Iwakuma (W 1-0) and reliever Toshiya Sugiuchi (S 1) put an end to the impressive streak of Cuba. Iwakuma allowed just five hits and a walk in six scoreless innings, striking out two. During his outing he never induced a hit with less than two outs, making the double by Leslie Anderson in the second and the triple by Yoennis Cespedes in the sixth nearly meaningless, as he always got out of the two-out jam. Sugiuchi replaced him for the remaining three periods and was perfect in relief, striking out four of the nine batters he faced.
The Japanese offense came through in the fourth, when Norichika Aoki (4-5) and Atsunori Inaba scored with two outs from second and third on a dropped fly ball by Cespedes. The deep fly ball by Michihiro Ogasawara bounced in and out of the glove of the young outfielder. Two RBI singles by Aoki and a sac fly by Hiroyuki Nakajima extended the lead to five runs afterwards and sealed the victory. Yunieski Maya (L 0-2) gave up two unearned runs on four hits in 3 2/3 innings, taking the loss.