GOLD MEDAL PREVIEW: USA VS. CUBA, SUNDAY AT 15:00, NETTUNO, ITALY
The United States of America and Cuba will meet in an International Baseball Federation (IBAF) Baseball World Cup final for the second time in a row, Sunday, at 15:00 (9:00 am EDT) in Nettuno, Italy. The U.S. enters the game at 7-0 (13-1 overall), and Cuba, 5-2 (12-2 overall) in third round play. The USA’s only loss was their first game, 13-9 in 11 innings to Venezuela on 10 September. Cuba has lost to Puerto Rico 5-2 on 18 September and to the USA 5-3 on Thursday.
The game will be seen on the MLB Network in the United States, Eurosport2 across Europe, ICRT in Cuba, RAI Sport in Italy and on tape delay on ESPN STAR Asia, making it the most widely-broadcast final since World Cup play began in 1938.
The final game will be a rematch of the 2007 IBAF Baseball World Cup, held in Chinese Taipei. The United States won that match-up, 6-3, ending Cuba’s run of nine-straight World Cup titles. Although the USA has seen the most recent success in the event, Cuba has historically dominated World Cup play. The current No. 1 in the world, Cuba has won a staggering 25 titles out of the 29 World Cups in which it has competed. Of the 25 wins, three of them have come in World Cups held in Italy (1978, 1988, 1998), and in the four tournaments it has not placed first, it has never finished outside of the top-3.
Team USA – current world No. 4 – will make its 12th appearance in a World Cup gold medal game,The USA is looking to take back-to-back titles for only the second time ever, the last time being in 1973-’74. Sunday. The U.S. has won the World Cup three times in 1973, 1974 and 2007. Overall, this will be the seventh time Cuba and the USA have played for World Cup gold, with Cuba holding a 6-1 lead. The last time two nations met in consecutive World Cup Finals was in 1994 and 1998, with Cuba defeating Korea both times to win the gold.
They met for the gold medal twice before in Italy, in both 1978 and 1988. Sunday’s final will take place in Nettuno, which is referred to throughout Italy as the country’s foremost baseball town. Stadio “Steno Borghese” will play host to the two world baseball powers, providing a dramatic backdrop for the IBAF’s crown jewel event.
Both Cuba and the United States have seen balanced offensive and pitching performances throughout the World Cup, but it is hard to ignore the prolific power numbers put up thus far by Cuba’s Alfredo Despaigne and the USA’s Justin Smoak.
Despaigne homered on Friday to break the Cuban and World Cup record for home runs in one event, with 10. Not to be outdone, Smoak, a Texas Rangers (MLB) prospect, already holds the U.S. Record in this World Cup with nine home runs. His 21 RBIs also lead the club.
Cuba continues to dominate in the pitching categories as well, leading all nations with a 1.70 ERA. It has three pitchers now at 3-0, Norge Vera, Miguel and Yulieski Gonzalez, while reliever Pedro Lazo has three saves and has yet to allow a run.
On the U.S. side, Terry Tiffee (.353 4 HR 19 RBI) sits two RBIs behind Smoak for the team lead, while Jon Weber leads the team in hitting (.435 3 HR 12 RBI). The U.S. pitching staff, which has been key in the squad’s current 13-game winning streak, boasts a 1.93 ERA and is led by 3-0 Lucas Harrell (no runs allowed in 10 innings in relief) and a five-man starting rotation which has allowed a total of 12 earned runs in 83 innings.