MIAMI – It was a historic night, as the Cuban national baseball team plays in the city with the largest Cuban population in the United States, but the game itself was unable to match the intensity of the moment. Behind their star-studded offense, the United States dismantled Cuba, 14-2, on loan at Depot Park on Sunday and advanced to the final of the World Baseball Classic.
Trea Turner, the Philadelphia Phillies shortstop who led the USA’s grand slam squad to the semifinals on Saturday, has faced Cuba twice. He drove in four home runs, as did first man Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt’s teammate on the St. Louis Cardinals, starter Adam Wainwright, led the U.S. home run by allowing one run over four innings.
The United States, who won the WBC title when it last played in 2017, will now face the winner of Monday’s semi-final match between Mexico and Japan. The final will be played on Tuesday evening.
“I didn’t hit a homer in spring training like four or five years ago or something,” said Turner, referring to the fact that the WBC takes place during Major League Baseball’s pre-season. “So it’s kind of funny how it goes, but I don’t ask questions. I just go out there and hope he continues. We need another win, so let’s make it happen.”
It was the Cuban team’s first visit to Miami since Cuba’s communist revolution in 1959, and the bluff crowd of 35,779 on Sunday showed a range of feelings about the team’s presence, seen as an extension of the country’s government. Fans donned Cuban flags and T-shirts and cheered the team after the national anthem was played before the first pitch and after big moments on the field.
But throughout the match, many fans also sang opposing chants such as “Libertad!” (freedom) or “patria y vida” (homeland and life), a reflection of the Cuban revolutionary slogan “patria o muerte” (homeland or death).
We’ve heard it,” said Armando Johnson, the Cuba manager. “But I didn’t care. We were focused on the job we wanted to do. It didn’t go well for us.”
During the sixth inning, a protester holding a sign calling for freedom for Cubans ran onto the field to applause from the fans. Security guards confronted him and took him from the square. Two more fans ran onto the field in the next innings. Late in the game, Cuban shooters signaled in right field that something had been thrown in their area of the bleachers.
But there was also a lot of vocal support for the United States. With each inning or strikeout—and there were plenty of both—fans cheered and waved the flag. “USA! USA!” Cheers broke out in the first inning when Turner fielded a ground ball and threw it to first base for an out.
“I’ve been in some big spots,” said Wainwright, who was awarded a world championship ring in 2006. That was the craziest environment I’ve ever played in. I am incredibly blessed that I was a part of that game.”
Before the game, USA third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is of Cuban descent, said he had a long talk with his family about playing against Cuba.
“There’s a lot of anxiety,” he said, later adding, “If it weren’t for the sacrifices my grandparents made to get here for my dad, I don’t know if I would have been the player I am today. So there’s a lot of emotion I have for her.” I respect them, I respect the players, but we have a job to do.”
Despite the assistance of players in MLB organizations—a recent change in Cuban Baseball Federation policy—the Cuban team has not yet been a match for the United States team. As many players have defected to play MLB in the United States, the Cuban team that was once mighty on the international baseball scene has faded away. This WBC talent injection boosted Cuba to the semi-finals.
But the United States’ lineup of All-Star award winners and Most Valuable Players scored against all seven Cuban shooters who appeared in Sunday’s game. Cuba jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, an advantage that barely lasted because Goldschmidt hit two runs in the bottom half of the frame.
“After running home,” Wainwright said of Goldschmidt, “the first thing he did was, he went right up to me and said, ‘We got you. ‘” “
Goldschmidt, the 2022 National League MVP of the Year, added: “This was one of the best runs I’ve ever run in my entire life.
Fellow Cardinals Miles Mikulas followed up with four solid runs, allowing the USA lineup to continue scoring. Turner, the ninth and final batter in the lineup, hit a solo shot in the second inning and added a three-run blast in the sixth inning, capping his second consecutive four-run game. Within two days, Turner said he was hoping for more.
“I love playing baseball, competing and being on top,” he said. “We’re playing good baseball right now, so we’ll go again and hopefully those stats keep showing up and that’s a good thing for Team USA.”
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