By Justin Malone, Staff Writer
Team USA is just one victory away from defending its World Baseball Classic (WBC) championship crown, cruising past Cuba in a 14-2 blowout victory to advance into the primer international tournament’s finale.
The Americans’ lopsided victory in the game culminated from an effective combination of offensive firepower and pitching efficiency from its star-studded roster, which started early on in the contest. Cuba got off to a great start, producing three infield hits and an RBI walk by designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne in the first inning to give USA some early challenges.
However, starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and the Americans’ defensive efforts limited Cuba to scoring just one run in the inning. A ground ball to third (which third baseman Nolan Arenado threw to home plate for the force out), a pop-up to second and a ground ball to shortstop curtailed Cuba’s efforts.
Team USA then invigorated their own offensive efforts in the bottom of the first as right fielder Mookie Betts doubled and first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt kickstarted the scoring by pummeling a 407-foot, two-run homer to leftfield to take a 2-1 lead.
Shortstop Trea Turner picked up right where he left off against the Americans’ quarterfinal performance against Venezuela, blasting a 428-foot home run to give USA a 3-1 lead in the second inning.
In the third, the Americans’ loaded the bases with one out as Arenado singled, leftfielder Kyle Schwarber got hit by a pitch and catcher Will Smith walked, threatening to extend the lead. USA scored two more runs after first baseman Pete Alonso converted an RBI single and second baseman Tim Anderson hit a sacrifice fly.
Goldschmidt then drew a walk and scored from first on an Arenado triple in the fourth. The Americans stretched their lead even more after Arenado scored on a Carlos Viera wild pitch to make the score 7-1.
Cuba took advantage of USA’s bullpen in the top of the fifth when third baseman Yoan Moncada hit a double and then scored off second baseman Andy Ibanez’s single.
USA opened the scoring floodgates in the bottom of the fifth after Goldschmidt hit a 2 RBI single to give USA a 9-2 lead.
Turner then blasted another 396-foot home run to bring in Smith and second baseman Jeff McNeil across the plate in the sixth. The shortstop became only the second-ever player in Team USA history to have a multi-home run game, joining exclusive company with Hall of Famer (and USA coach) Ken Griffey Jr.
Later in the inning, an RBI double by centerfielder Mike Trout and a solo home run by outfielder Cedric Mullens summated USA’s scoring efforts, resulting in the final 14-2 score.
Across Team USA’s lineup, four players produced multi-hit performances that instigated the Americans’ scoring efforts: Goldschmidt went 2-5 and also drove in four runs on the night, Betts scored two runs and finished 2-6, Arenado converted an RBI and went 2-3, and Turner went 3-5 in his historic performance.
On the mound, Wainwright allowed just 1 run in 4 innings with a strikeout and a walk. Mike Mikolas, who only gave up one run in four innings with three strikeouts, and Aaron Loup finished out the game from the bullpen.
USA is now only the third team to appear in back-to-back championship games, seeking to join the 2006 and 2009 Japan teams as the only back-to-back champs.