Cuba earns trip to WBC semifinals for first time since 2006

Cuba earns trip to WBC semifinals for first time since 2006

TOKYO — Cuba took the 7,500-mile flight to Miami for a trip to the World Baseball Classic semifinals for the first time since 2006.

“Cuban baseball fans are very emotional today. They’ve been waiting a long time for now,” manager Armando Johnson said after Wednesday night’s 4-3 win over Australia. “This is a new page, a new chapter.”

Alfredo Despaigne hit a tiebreaking sacrifice fly and Yoelkis Guibert followed with a two-run single in a three-run fifth inning.

Using current major leaguers for the first time in the WBC, Cuba will play Sunday at Marlins Park against the winner of the quarterfinal between Venezuela and the second-place team from Group C: Canada, Colombia, Mexico or the US

Former Philadelphia Phillies prospect Rixon Wingrove, who led Australia with seven RBIs in the tournament, hit a go-ahead RBI single in the second and had a two-run homer in the sixth Chicago Cubs‘Roenis Elias. Australia got two in the sixth before Elías retired Milwaukee Brewers prospect Alex Hall on a flyout.

Elías pitched a perfect seventh, Liván Moinelo worked around a pair of walks in a scoreless eighth by striking out Ulrich Bojarski and retiring Tim Kennelly on an inning-ending flyout. Raidel Martinez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save, striking out Darryl George on the eighth pitch of the at-bat for the final out.

In front of 35,061 people at the Tokyo Dome, Louis Robert tied the score for Cuba on a run-scoring groundout in the third.

Cuba, which lost the 2006 final to Japan, has been eliminated in the second round of the past three WBCs. The Cubans won their third straight game in this tournament after losing their first two.

Australia made it past the group stage for the first time.

“Overall, this trip will redefine Australian baseball back home and hopefully it will change the conversation,” George said. “People don’t really expect much from us.”

Yoán Moncada of Chicago White Sox had two hits and two walks, and was hitting .421 with five RBIs. Moncada led off the third with a one-out double to Mitch Neunborn, which brought in Roel Santos.

Winner Miguel Romerothe second of five Cuban pitchers, allowed one hit in 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

Santos led off the fifth against loser Josh Guyer, who walked Moncada. Sam Holland drove in Robert, and Cuba went ahead on a sacrifice fly by Despaigne, who is hitting .412 (7 for 17) with four RBIs and the WBC career leader with seven homers. The 36-year-old outfielder and designated hitter is a fan favorite in Japan after playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Pacific League from 2014-16 and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks from 2017 until last season.

Former major leaguer Yoenis Cespedes left the team before the game for undisclosed personal reasons, the Cuban Baseball Federation said.