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Cuba will face Australia at the 2023 World Baseball Classic quarterfinals on Wednesday

A ticket to the semifinals is on the line for both teams. In the World Classics, Cuba has a 2-0 record against Australia



In the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC), Cuba is one step away from reaching its second semifinal in history.


This is Cuba's fifth consecutive appearance in the second round of these tournaments since the tournament began in 2006.


Cuba will also be playing for a WBC semifinal berth for the third time. In a historic semifinal game in 2006, they defeated the Dominican Republic, 3-1. They did it again in 2013 against the Netherlands, losing 7-6 after holding a 6-4 lead in the eighth inning.


On Wednesday, March 15th, 7:00 pm (local time) and 6:00 am (Cuba and Eastern US time), the game will be played at the iconic Tokyo Dome in Japan.

In Australia, the Cubans face an old friend.


Cuba and Australia have a long history of participating in international events, but the importance of this meeting in 2023 has never been greater.


A 6-2 victory by Cuba - to win its third Olympic title - in the 2004 Olympic final, was the most important matchup between these two teams before this one.


Australians are coming off a great moment. In Group B, the Australians have posted three victories, with their only loss coming against heavy favorites Japan. The Aussies had only won two games in previous editions of the Clasico. this year, with a 8-7 win over South Korea, Australia went on to beat China 12-2, lose to Japan 7-1, and defeat the Czech Republic 8-3 to complete qualifying.


But, to be honest, after defeating South Korea in their debut match, the team practically secured their ticket to the quarterfinals for the first time, with Korea failing to advance to the second round of these tournaments for the third consecutive time.



Cuba, on the other hand, had a path where it was not so much about how you begin as how you end. During their debut, the Cubans lost 4-2 to the Netherlands, then suffered a 6-3 extra innings loss to Italy, before they rallied with victories of 13-4 against Panama and 7-1 against Chinese Taipei. With this last win, they were able to win Group A, with the lowest tiebreak coefficient that determined the places after multiple teams tied in wins and losses, in this case 2-2, among five teams.



The winner of this quarterfinals match will advance to the semifinals at the loanDepot Park in Miami, on March 19 at 7:00 pm (ET).


Last time Australia played Cuba at a higher level of international competition was during the Premier-12 world tournament in 2019. Australia lost that game, 3-2, on November 7 in 10 innings as part of Group C of the tournament played at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Korea.


They have faced off twice in the World Classics, and both clashes were dramatic. During the II World Baseball Classic in 2009, Cuba was losing 4-3 at the Foro Sol Stadium in Mexico City when Yosvany Peraza hit a two-run home run, with Yulieski Gurriel on base, in the eighth inning to seal a 5-4 victory.



During the 2017 tournament, the second game between these two teams occurred - exactly at the Tokyo Dome -, where Cuba also won sensationally, 4-3, once again on March 10, with another historic home run, this time by Alfredo Despaigne, a Grand Slam in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Cuba trailed 1-0.



Team Cuba, who this time have seen the departure of two of their players in outfielder Yoennis Céspedes - due to family problems - and Andy Ibáñez, at the request of his MLB team, the Detroit Tigers, to assess a player's injury, have not yet announced their replacements for the important clash.


However, managers Dave Nilsson, for Australia, and Armando Johnson, for Cuba, have publicly announced their starters for the match, let's see who they are.


Starters:


Steve Kent, Australia: 33, is a left-handed veteran of the Australian Baseball League (ABL). Having played in the ABL for 12 years, he is playing in his third World Baseball Classic (2013 & 2017 previously). He has won an Australian title - the Claxton Shield is the name of the Australian league title - with the Canberra Cavalry team in 2012, the only title for Canberra in the ABL. Kent has pitched in the MLB minor leagues as high as Triple-A where he had a 10-13 record, a 4.12 ERA and 247 strikeouts over 266 2/3 innings for six seasons. In 14 seasons, he has a 38-37 record with a 4.00 ERA at all levels. With the Melbourne Aces in the ABL in 2022-2023, he started only four games with a 2-2 record and a 4.41 PCL. Kent pitched 1/3 innings in the tournament's opening match against South Korea, allowing three runs with three walks and a strikeout, but crediting himself with the hold.


Steven Kent (Photo: SMP Images)

Previous to the game against Cuba, Kent said to Baseball Australia: “This is really hard to talk about. But really cool,” he says. “Outside these four walls there may not be a lot of people who believe in us, but it doesn’t matter what happens out there because all that matters is what happens inside these walls. We expected to be here.” Kent ended by saying, “It starts with our manager Dave Nilsson,” says Kent of his coach and Australian MLB All-Star. “He believes that we are good enough to be the best tournament baseball team in the world and that we can beat anyone. And we believe it too.”


Yariel Rodríguez, Cuba: 25, a product of the Cuban National Series, Yariel Rodríguez made his debut on the island with the Toros de Camagüey in 2015-2016. This is the first time the right-hander has participated in the World Baseball Classic. The Cuban-born Yariel has played in Cuba for six seasons, and after signing with the Chunichi Dragons team of the Japan Professional Baseball League (NPB), he has played for the team for three seasons (2020-2022) with a record of 10-10, mostly as a relief player. As a reliever in 2022, Yariel went 6-2 with 39 holds in 54 2/3 innings, striking out 60 batters and having a 1.15 ERA. As Cuba's starting pitcher for this edition of the WBC tournament, Yariel completed four innings of only three hits, one earned run, one walk, and six strikeouts against the Netherlands, in a 4-2 loss. There was no decision for Yariel in this game.


Likewise, Yariel Rodríguez told the Cuban sports magazine Jit that he was happy with the responsibility he was given for this match by the manager, Armando Johnson: "The team is happy, I'm happy with my responsibilities. I am confident I can take that responsibility, and we hope the results are good," he concluded.



How do I watch the game? Fox Sports 2 (FS2) will broadcast the game in the United States at 6:00 am (ET), while Tele Rebelde will broadcast it in Cuba.

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