Cuba thumps Mexico to close Round 1
Unbeaten squad to face Japan Sunday in rematch of '06 final
By Christopher Ramirez / Special to MLB.com
Cuba stayed undefeated in Classic play with a 16-4 drubbing of Mexico on Thursday and now heads to San Diego to open Round 2 against Japan at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday in a rematch of the 2006 final.
Mexico, with the loss, faces Pool A-winner Korea at 11 ET later that night.
"Today, for Mexico as well as Cuba, this was a hard game," Cuba manager Higinio Velez said. "It was difficult. We had to play to win, but we also had to play in a certain way so we weren't wearing out our guys."
There's little doubt Cuba has the momentum going against a Japan club that defeated it, 10-6, in the inaugural Classic.
"It is a repeat game," Velez said. "It's a chance for us to get back at them."
Velez added that he and his staff haven't begun to prepare for Japan and was reluctant to discuss his lineup or pitching rotation. He did point out that things won't be the same for his ballclub as the competition improves.
"The second series' pitching quality will be better, but we won't have these incredibly lucky scores," Velez said.
Luck aside, Cuba barreled its way to the substantial win by pouncing on missed opportunities by Mexico, which had the bases loaded twice in the first four innings but was only able to bring in one run.
With Cuba trailing in the fourth, 3-2, second baseman Yuliesky Gourriel lined a two-run home run into right field. Yoennis Cespedes followed with an RBI single into left, and Michel Enriquez doubled in a pair of runs to move Cuba ahead, 7-3.
Cuba was only warming up, however, as it would build on its lead in the seventh, largely at the expense of Mexico reliever Dennys Reyes.
Reyes took the mound to start the seventh, only to give up three straight hits, including a double, throw three wild pitches and hit pinch-hitter Leonys Martin. Reyes was lifted after walking Joan Carlos Pedroso, but Mexico's suffering wouldn't end there.
The next batter, Ariel Pestano's smacked a three-run home run into right field that sent many of Mexico's fans toward the exits and popcorn and drinks toward a few Cuba supporters behind the third-base dugout that were boisterously celebrating their team's 13-4 lead.
Left fielder Frederich Cepeda delivered the final blow, crushing a three-run home into center field to end the game, though it went partly unnoticed as many of the remaining fans, who braved temperatures in the 50s and rain throughout, were focused on the fallout of a fight in the stands along the first-base line.
Of the 28 home runs hit in six games played at Foro Sol Stadium this week, Cepeda was the lone batter to homer to center field.
Christopher Ramirez is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.