Team Japan is atop Pool E in the second round of the World Baseball Classic after defeating Team Cuba 8-5 on Tuesday morning. The game was a back-and-forth affair, but Japan was able to rally when it mattered most to remain undefeated.
Tetsuto Yamada set Japan up with an early lead, swatting a solo home run to left-center in the bottom of the first. Cuba responded in the second thanks to a two-run home run from Yurisbel Gracial. In what would become a theme, Japan tied the game again shortly thereafter in the third inning when Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh singled in a run, knotting the game at 2-2.
Cuba plated two more in the fourth on a two-run single from Victor Mesa. Japan rallied again for a tie in the fifth when Norichika Aoki drove in a run with a ground out and Tsutsugoh singled in another run, making it a 4-4 contest.
Cuba’s Yosvani Alarcon broke the tie with an RBI single in the sixth and Japan re-tied the game in the bottom half on Seiji Kobayashi’s RBI single.
In the bottom of the eighth, Japan regained the lead for the first time since the first inning. The rally began when Nobuhiro Matsuda reached safely when first baseman Willian Saavedra couldn’t scoop a low throw on a routine grounder. Shogo Akiyama singled to left-center, pushing Matsuda to third. Seiichi Uchikawa then lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, giving Japan a 6-5 lead. Tetsuto Yamada followed up by swatting a two-run home run to left field — his second homer of the game — bumping Japan’s lead to 8-5.
Japan reliever Kazuhisa Makita started the ninth inning protecting a three-run lead. He struck out Yosvani Alarcon, got Jeferson Delgado to ground out, then struck out Mesa to end the ballgame in an 8-5 victory.
Japan will play Team Israel on Wednesday morning. A win will certainly push them into the semifinals against the runner-up of Pool F. Cuba will attempt to stave off elimination when they play Team Netherlands on Tuesday night.