Channel News Asia
Title favourites Cuba and Japan advanced to the Olympic baseball medal round as they each scored their fifth win against one loss in the preliminary stage.
Canada and Australia also booked the two other berths in the final knock-out round as they each stood with four wins and two losses with one more day to go in the eight-nation round robin.
Cuba, the runners-up to the United States at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, whipped Canada 5-2 to hand the North Americans their second defeat in as many days.
Yoshinobu Takahashi smashed a home-run and scored the winning run as Japan’s all-professional team came from 0-3 down to beat Taiwan’s all stars 4-3 in 10 innings, in a rematch of the Asian Olympic qualifier final.
Canada ensured their advance to the final round when they saw Australia, beefed up by US minor leaguers, overwhelm Holland 22-2 in a night match which was stopped in the seventh inning because of the lopsided score.
Cuba went ahead 3-0 in the top of the second inning when Eriel Sanchez doubled for a run and Antonio Scull cracked a two-run homer. Sanchez batted in another run on a single in the fourth inning.
Canada, including several former US Major League players, hit back in the bottom of the seventh inning when Ryan Radmanovich batted in two runs on a single.
But Michel Enriquez singled in the eighth to allow Eduardo Parret home after he advanced to second base on a single hit and a right fielder error and moved further to third base on Aaron Myette’s wild pitch.
“We all wanted to reach the next round. I don’t know what to say I am so happy,” Pedro Luiz Lazo, who pitched the ninth inning to save for Cuba.
Taiwan got on the board first with a three-run home-run by former national league most valuable player Peng Cheng-Min off Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara of the Yomiuri Giants in the top of the third inning.
Japan struck back in the bottom of the seven when Yomiuri Giants center-fielder Takahashi slammed in a two-run home-run to the left after a run-scoring bunt by Shinya Miyamoto.
After a 3-3 equilibrium in regulation nine innigs, Takahashi singled to the right and Kenji Jojima walked. The two runners moved to second and third base on a bunt and, after Yoshitomo Tani was walked, Michihiro Ogasawara sacrificed a deep fly for Takahashi to return home.
“Our objective is the gold medal,” Takahashi said. “So qualifying for the knockout semi-finals should only be natural.”
Australia’s 22-run rampage opened with nine runs in the first inning, followed by five runs each in the second and third. Australian shortstop Rodney van Buizen cracked a grand slam in the third, adding sparks to the onslaught.
Holland could score only on two solo home-runs by Yurrendel de Caster and Andrew Utting in the bottoms of the second and fifth innings.