Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cuba ready for rematch with Japan


World Baseball Clasic

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 5:31:00 AM

Winner becomes final team to qualify for Classic semifinals

By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- Last year, Japan and Cuba faced each other for the World Baseball Classic title in the final game of the tournament.

On Wednesday, the two countries will face off again under a completely different set of circumstances. The winner will advance to the tournament semifinals in Los Angeles and the loser will go home. Korea qualified for the next round with a 4-1 victory against Japan on Tuesday.

The United States and Venezuela also have qualified for the semifinals.

The road to L.A. will not be an easy one for Cuba. Japan will send right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, a 21-game winner in Japan in 2008, to the mound. Cuba will counter with right-hander Yuneski Maya. Maya pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief against Japan in Cuba's Pool 1 opener on Sunday. Overall, Maya is 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings.

Including Sunday's 6-0 victory over Cuba, the Japanese have defeated the Cubans twice in a row in the Classic at PETCO, including a 10-6 victory in the 2006 finals.

"We will do everything we didn't do [Sunday]," Cuba manager Higinio Velez said. "We will do everything opposite. We are getting ready to beat them. It will be their turn, and we know we will be facing either Korea or Japan, and we are ready for them."

The teams know each other well.

Last year, Cuba defeated Japan, 4-2, in the Olympic opener in Beijing. In the rematch on Sunday, Daisuke Matsuzaka did his part to keep Cuba's offense off the scoreboard, limiting the 2006 World Baseball Classic runner-up to five hits in six scoreless innings in the victory.

Before the Japanese victory against the Cubans in 2006, Cuba defeated Japan in the gold-medal game in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics and again in Olympic action in 2000. The teams didn't face in the medal round in the past two Olympics, but Japan beat Cuba during pool play in Athens in 2004.

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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