World Cup Finals
USA vs. Cuba
Team USA, currently 4th in the world after the big leaguers showing in the World Baseball Classic, faced off against perennial baseball powerhouse Cuba. On Thursday, the USA beat Cuba 5-3. Could the USA beat Cuba two in a row in the same competition?
The USA sent San Diego Padres prospect Cory Luebke to the mound, who was 1-0 with a 0.66 ERA in 13.2 IP with 15 Ks. Cuba countered with Norge Vera, who was 3-0 with a 0.44 ERA in 20.2 IP with 25 Ks and just 10 hits. Luebke was quick through three innings, while Vera was dominant as well, despite giving up Lucas May’s 3-run homer in the second (the first HR allowed by Vera). The LA Dodgers farmhand had 3HR in just 8 games with the USA, while he only had 6 HR in 68 games with his Chattanooga minor league team. The announcers joked that it must have been the Italian pregame spread of ham sandwiches and bruschetta. Vera dominated with 8Ks, but left with a no-decision and was hurt by his defense. Cuba fought back to tie the game at 4, but the USA put up a 6 spot in the top of the seventh, highlighted by a Cuban error and four straight singles by Justin Smoak, Jon Weber, Terry Tiffee, and Josh Kroeger. The Cubans again threatened in the bottom of the ninth against Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Brad Lincoln, loading the bases with two outs with World Cup HR-record holder Alfredo Despaigne coming to the plate. Veteran Nate Field came in to get Despaigne to fly out to deep left. 5,000 people showed up in Nettuno, Italy to see if USA could continue their recent dominance against Cuba.
Team USA coach Eddie Rodriguez thought his team would have a good offense, but admitted that he didn’t think it would be that good. The USA was the best offensive team with a .305 average (before the finals), led by veterans Terry Tiffee (.353, 19 RBIs) and Jon Weber (.435, 12 RBIs), and World Cup MVP and Texas Rangers top prospect Justin Smoak (9 HR, 21 RBIs, 15 runs scored). They also had the second best pitching with a 1.96 ERA and 118 Ks, led by Luebke, LA Angels farmhand Trevor Reckling (2-0, 0.69 ERA, 14Ks, 13 IP), and Atlanta Braves farmhand Todd Redmond (3-0, 1.21 ERA, 17 Ks, 1BB, 22.1 IP).
Cuba had the best pitching staff (1.70 ERA, 144Ks, before the final) led by Vera, Freddy Alvarez (2-0, 0.56 ERA), and veteran reliever Pedro Lazo (0.00 ERA, 3SV). Offensively, the silver medal winning Cubans were led by World Cup HR-record holder Alfredo Despaigne (.420, 10HR, 16 RBIs) and Hector Olivera (.436, 21H, 15R). Cuba has made the finals of the World Cup 21 straight times since 1952. The final was a send off to veteran catcher Ariel Pestano, who will be retiring following the World Cup.
The rest of the World Cup field on Saturday…
Before the finals began on Sunday, the bronze medal game was played between Canada and Puerto Rico. Canada defeated Puerto Rico 6-2, winning their first ever bronze. Canada as a team was second in the World Cup with a .301 batting average and led in fielding percentage. Offensively, the Canadians were led by Minnesota Twins prospect Rene Tosoni (.357, 3 HR, 3 triples, 16 R, 16 RBIs). Matt Kniginyzky of the Kansas City Royals led the Canadian pitching staff with a 2-0 record, a 0.00 ERA and 11Ks in 18 IP. Puerto Rico finished fourth and was led offensively by Baltimore Orioles farmhand Miguel Abreu (.400, 6 doubles, 22 H). Mario Santiago, a Kansas City Royals farmhand, was 2-0, with a 1.80 ERA AND 10 Ks in 16.2 IP.
Australia defeated the Netherlands 4-1. Australia’s win gave them their best finish ever, fifth place, at the World Cup. Australia’s top two pitchers, David Welch of the Milwaukee Brewers (18 IP, 1.00 ERA, 22K) and Dushan Ruzic of the Cincinnati Reds (18 IP, 0.00 ERA, 11 K), combined on an eight hitter. Offensively, Australia was led by Philadelphia Phillies farmhand Joel Naughton (.464), Minnesota Twins prospect Luke Hughes (.286, 4HR, 5 doubles, 12 RBIs) and Philadelphia Phillies farmhand Tim Kennelly (.273, 10 RBIs). The Netherlands, coming off a great showing in the WBC, stumbled in the third round after going 6-1 in the second round and taking the number one seed in their pool. In losing four in a row to end the World Cup, they struggled to put runs on the board (though the team hit .286 overall, which was third in the World Cup). Offensively, they were led by veteran Sidney deJong (.371, 11 RBIs) and San Francisco Giants farmhand Sharlon Schoop (.364). Tom Stuifbergen of the Minnesota Twins led the Netherlands with a 1.10 ERA and a 1-0 record.
4. Puerto Rico
8. Chinese Taipei