Cuba hits a wall in Pool 1 opener

First defeat in 2009 Classic comes against Team Japan

Aroldis Chapman picked up the loss after giving up three runs on three hits on Sunday. (Donald Miralle/Getty)

Country Headlines

World Baseball Classic Headlines

ADVERTISEMENT

Article Print and Share:
SAN DIEGO -- Cuban pitching phenom Aroldis Chapman came into Sunday's matchup against Japan with a record-breaking 102-mph fastball on his resume and the hopes of his island on his shoulder.

And the tall, lanky 21-year-old lefty didn't disappoint, hitting the 100-mph mark in the first inning on his 12th pitch of the game.

It would be one of the few highlights of the day for the Cubans, as they were topped, 6-0, by the Japanese in the first game of the second round of the World Baseball Classic at PETCO Park.

Cuba will play Mexico on Monday at 11 p.m. ET. Japan, the tournament's defending champions, will play Korea at 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

"Korea and Mexico are great teams, that's why they are here," Cuba manager Higinio Velez said. "Whoever is next is wonderful and whoever moves forward will have to win, and they will have to play a really great game against us, as well."

As for Chapman, his fastball, often in the high 90s, was everything that everybody expected. He was removed after 50 pitches with a pitching line nobody expected: three hits and three runs in 2 1/3 innings. He struck out one batter.

Chapman retired the first two hitters of the game, but a walk to Norichika Aoki, the first of three free Chapman passes, appeared to rattle the young man.

In the second inning, Chapman walked Michihiro Ogasawara to lead off the frame, but he helped himself by picking the Japanese designated hitter off first base. He followed the same pattern with the next hitter, Seiichi Uchikawa, by walking him and then picking him off, too.

Chapman struck out Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome looking to end the second inning to keep the game scoreless.

All that changed in the third inning, when Chapman gave up consecutive singles to catcher Kenji Johjima and second baseman Akinori Iwamura, the eighth and ninth hitters in the Japanese lineup, to start the frame.

A visit to the mound by Velez appeared to have calmed down the young hurler, and Chapman followed by making a stellar scoop-and-throw to third base for a force out on a bunt to the left side of the infield by Ichiro Suzuki.

It could have been the play of the game, the game-saving type on an outstanding athletic play by Chapman on a rare unsuccessful execution by Japan.

It wasn't.

Japanese shortstop Yasuyuki Kataoka followed with a single to load the bases, ending Chapman's outing and the promise of an effective afternoon from the rising Cuban star.

"Perhaps [Chapman] felt the pressure, maybe he was not on his best game," Velez said. "He was able to pitch, but he was not at his best. He has great possibilities and a great future."

Pitching in relief of Chapman, Cuban left-hander Norberto Gonzalez entered the game, and he promptly unleashed a wild pitch on an 0-2 count to score Iwamura and put Japan ahead, 1-0. A single by Norichika Aoki brought home Ichiro for Japan's second run, and the country added another run on a sacrifice fly by Shuichi Murata.

Japanese starter Daisuke Matsuzaka did his part to keep Cuba's offense off the scoreboard, limiting the 2006 World Baseball Classic runner-up to five hits in six scoreless innings.

"Matsuzaka is a well-known pitcher who has participated in many different international events, the Olympics, as well as the World Series," Velez said. "We faced a wonderful pitcher today, and he did not face an unknown at all. It's a pitcher that we respect quite a bit."

The Red Sox right-hander struck out eight batters in the 86-pitch outing to lift his record to 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA in two World Baseball Classic tournaments. He defeated Cuba in the finals of the Classic in 2006.

"Against Cuba in the Beijing Olympics and the WBC, I knew Cuba was a good team, but particularly there was nothing I was too worried about," Matsuzaka said. "I thought I was trying to do the good pitching, and that's what I was concentrating on most of all."

Cuba was not as effective. With Ismel Jimenez on the mound, Japan scored one run in the fourth and fifth innings to extend its lead to five runs.

"We are going to come back [Monday] with our all," Velez said. "Nobody will win this Classic without any lost games. So we have really good experience, we want to win and we are already psychologically being prepared for [Monday]. Our fans need to stay calm and trust in us."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.