MIAMI — It was a historic night when the Cuban national baseball team played in the city with the largest Cuban population in the United States, but the game couldn’t match the intensity of the moment. The United States advanced to the World Baseball Classic final with a 14-2 victory over Cuba on Sunday at Lone Depot Park.
Trey Turner, the Philadelphia Phillies shortstop whose grand slam sent the U.S. into the semifinals on Saturday, homered twice against Cuba. He drove in four runs, as did first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. And Goldschmidt’s St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright led America’s pitching staff in allowing one run over four innings.
The U.S., who won the WBC when it last played in 2017, will now face the winner of Monday’s semi-final between Mexico and Japan. The final will be held on Tuesday night.
“I haven’t hit a homer in spring training in four or five years or something like that,” Turner said, referring to the fact that the WBC occurs during the Major League Baseball season. “So it’s funny how it works, but I’m not asking questions. I’m just going out there and hoping it continues. We just need one more win, so let’s get it.
The Cuban team made its first visit to Miami since the communist revolution in Cuba in 1959, and Sunday’s sellout crowd of 35,779 showed the range of feelings about the team’s presence, which is seen as an extension of the country’s government. Donning Cuban flags and shirts, fans cheered on the team after the national anthem was played before the first pitch and after big moments on the field.
But throughout the game, many fans chanted “Libertad!” They also chanted protest slogans like (liberty) or “patria y vida” (homeland and life), a reverse of the Cuban revolutionary motto “patria o muerte” (homeland or death).
“We’ve heard that,” Cuban manager Armando Johnson said. “But I didn’t focus on that. We focused on the work we wanted to do. It didn’t go well for us.
During the sixth inning, a protester ran onto the field to applause from the fans with a sign that read Freedom for Cubans. He was tackled by security guards and taken off the field. Two more fans ran onto the field in the next inning. Late in the game, Cuban pitchers in the bullpen in right field pointed to something thrown into their area from the stands.
But vocal support for America was also overwhelming. With every run or hit — and there were plenty of both — the fans cheered and waved the flag. “America! America!” Chants erupted in the first inning when Turner fielded a ground ball to first base for an out.
“I pitched in some great places. It was the craziest environment I’ve ever played in. It was an incredible blessing to be a part of that game,” said Wainwright, who earned a World Series ring in 2006.
Before the game, U.S. 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 anxious feelings,” he said later, “and if it wasn’t for the sacrifices my grandparents made here for my parents, I don’t know if I would be the player I am today. . . . So I feel a lot of feelings toward that. I respect them, I respect the players, but We have a job.
Despite the help of players in MLB organizations — and a recent change in Cuban Federation baseball policy — Team Cuba has yet to match America’s team. With many players failing to play in the MLB in the U.S., the once-powerful Cuban team has faded from the international baseball scene. An injection of talent for this WBC boosted Cuba to the semi-finals.
But the United States lineup of All-Stars and Most Valuable Player Award winners scored runs against the seven Cuban pitchers who appeared in Sunday’s game. Cuba took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and held it as Goldschmidt hit a two-run home run in the bottom half of the frame.
“After the home run, the first thing he does,” Wainwright said of Goldschmidt, “he goes right to me and he says, ‘We got you.'”
Added Goldschmidt, the 2022 National League MVP: “That’s one of my favorite home runs I’ve ever hit in my life.
Their Cardinals teammate Miles Mikolas followed through with four strong innings, allowing the United States lineup to score consecutively. Turner, the ninth and final hitter in the lineup, hit a solo shot in the second inning to add three runs in the sixth, his second straight four-run game. And in two days, Turner said he hopes. Further.
“I love playing baseball, competing and coming out on top,” he said. “We’re playing good baseball right now, so with one more to go, those stats keep coming, and that’s a good thing for Team USA.”