MIAMI — From purely a baseball standpoint, Sunday’s World Baseball Classic semifinal was a rout.
The United States dominated Cuba, 14-2, in front of a sold-out crowd at Miami’s loanDepot park to advance to Tuesday’s championship, where it will play the winner of Monday’s semifinal between Japan and Mexico for the chance to defend its World Baseball Classic title after winning the tournament in 2017.
But this game on this day wasn’t always going to be about baseball, not with the Cuban national team playing in Little Havana.
There were protests outside the stadium leading up to first pitch.
Chants of “Patria y Vida” (a rally cry against Cuba’s government that translates to “Homeland and Life”) and “Libertad” (“Freedom”) chants echoed throughout the ballpark.
A protester ran onto the field in the top of the sixth holding up a banner that read, in part, “Libertad Para Los Cubanos.” (“Freedom For Cubans.”). The crowd gave a huge ovation before he was escorted off the field. A second fan charged the field in the seventh inning and a third wearing a Cuban flag around his back in the bottom of the eighth (and was tackled by security as he got close to the mound).
A sign that read “Viva Cuba Libre De Dictadura” (“Long Live Cuba Free From Dictatorship”) temporarily hung over the awning by the Budweiser bar in left-center field.
On the field, though, the game was essentially a one-side affair although the United States actually fell behind 1-0 early. Cuba opened the game with three consecutive infield singles against Adam Wainwright before Alfredo Despaigne drew a bases-loaded walk.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run home run to left field in the bottom half of the inning to give the U.S. a lead it wouldn’t relinquish and finished the game with four RBI overall.
Shortstop Trea Turner, Team USA’s hero in the quarterfinal with his go-ahead grand slam against Venezuela, hit two more home runs on Sunday — a solo shot to left field in the second and a three-run blast to left-center in the sixth. Turner, the No. 9 hitter for the United States’ superstar-filled lineup, has now hit four home runs this World Baseball Classic — the most by a USA player in a single World Baseball Classic.
Third baseman Nolan Arenado, whose father is of Cuban heritage and whose grandfather was once a political prisoner of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, had a pair of hits including a single that started a two-run third inning and an RBI triple in the fourth. Arenado left the game after a pitch hit his right hand in the fifth inning; X-rays came back negative.
“There’s a lot of feelings I feel toward it,” Arenado said pregame, also noting that he had “a lot of anxious feelings” about the matchup and that he had “a long discussion” with his family Sunday morning about the game. “I respect them, I respect the players, but we have a job to do. So we got to put that aside and take care of business tonight and then hopefully have a good game and then we can talk about it after.”
The United States scored at least one run in seven of the eight innings in which they came to the plate.
Wainwright settled in after the rocky first inning and held Cuba to just the one run over four innings. Miles Mikolas, Wainwright’s teammate with the St. Louis Cardinals, followed with four innings of one-run ball of his own.
Aaron Loup pitched a scoreless ninth to end the game.