Cuba prepared to cap off amazing ride
A victory over Japan Monday would give squad the Classic title
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
Reaching the finals in international competition is nothing new to the Cubans. Monday's finals mark the 37th time they've advanced to the championship game, spanning years of Olympic participation, World Cups, Intercontinental Cups and now, the inaugural World Baseball Classic.
While playing game after game against teams peppered with Major League All-Stars is a new challenge for Cuba in this Classic, the general feeling among the Cuban players is that the goals are the same, no matter who they're facing.
"We have played in World Championships, World Cups, the Olympics," outfielder Frederich Cepeda said. "The message is already out there. Here [at the Classic], it was a little different, because we [played against] Major League Baseball players, and at one point we weren't coming. Finally, we did come, we finally came to play.
"As the slogan says, 'Here, we speak baseball.' That's why we came, to play baseball. Nothing else. We play as a team. This is not an individual game. It's a team game. That's what we'll do."
Still, a few notable individuals have led this club with their bats. First baseman Ariel Borrero is hitting .333 (6-for-18) over seven games, and Cepeda has a .364 average (8-for-22), also having appeared in seven games.
Right fielder Osmany Urrutia has a .320 average over seven games, logging eight hits in 25 at-bats. Center fielder Alexei Ramirez has five hits in 12 at-bats for a .417 average.
And after posting a 3-for-4 day on Saturday against the Dominicans, designated hitter Yoandry Garlobo has a whopping .524 average over seven Classic contests. He has 11 hits in 21 at-bats.
Not bad for a team known more for its pitching. Judging by the raw numbers, it should come as no surprise that Cuba is in a good position to win this tournament. But it'll have some heady competition in Japan.
"One thing I can tell for sure is that we can show a great performance in Monday's game against the Cuban team," said Japan manager Sadaharu Oh. "Whether we win or lose, we will play the game with a lot of heart and a lot of pride that we came to the final game of this [World Baseball Classic]."