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Team USA falls to Cuba; take on Japan in Bronze Medal game

BEIJING — Three-run homers by Alexei Bell and Ariel Pestano highlighted a six-run eighth inning as Cuba broke open a close game en route to defeating the U.S. Olympic baseball team, 10-2, on Friday evening in semifinal action at the Wukesong Main Field.

The loss snaps Team USA’s four-game winning streak and puts the U.S. in the bronze-medal game against Japan on Saturday morning with first pitch scheduled for 10:30 a.m. local time (Friday night at 10:30 p.m. EDT). Cuba advances to face Korea in the gold-medal game.

Things were tight heading into the late innings with Cuba clinging to a 4-2 lead against the U.S. The Red, White & Blue managed to twice cut two-run deficits in half but could get no more than one run in either the fourth or fifth innings.

Matt Brown (Bellevue, Wash.) tallied a fourth-inning sacrifice fly RBI and Jason Donald (Fresno, Calif.) recorded an RBI single in the fifth to bring the U.S. within a run. That would be the last run scored by the U.S., though, as Cuba went ahead by two runs again on a solo homer by Frederich Cepeda in the sixth inning and kept tacking on.

The offense then started to come together for Cuba in the bottom of the eighth when Michel Enriquez and Cepeda laced back-to-back singles setting the stage for Bell. On a 1-2 pitch from U.S. reliever Jeff Stevens, Bell launched a deep homer into left field to extend the Cubans’ lead to 7-2. Cuba continued its offensive attack with three more runs courtesy of Ariel Pestano, who knocked a three-run homer to left field off reliever Blaine Neal.

Cuba would finish the night with a 14-6 advantage in hits with Despaigne’s 3-for-4 day at the plate leading the way. Bell, Cepeda and Yuliesky Gourriel added two hits apiece. All nine Cuba starters recorded at least one hit. Cuba also finished with four home runs.

Starting pitcher Norge Luis Vera picked up the win for Cuba after six innings of work allowing two runs — one earned — on six hits. The loss fell to U.S. starter Stephen Strasburg (San Diego, Calif.). The right-hander for Team USA went four innings and allowed three runs on six hits with five strikeouts and no walks allowed.

“That was a tough one,” said manager Davey Johnson. “We hung too many breaking balls and that was our downfall, and we couldn’t get anything going offensively. I thought Stephen [Strasburg] was throwing the ball exceptionally well, but he had 75 pitches after four [innings]. He’s got too good a future ahead of him. I didn’t want him to go out there and labor at all in the fifth. We were in good position. We just didn’t hold them. We made too many mistakes.”

Cuba broke ahead, 2-0, in the bottom of the third inning. Giorbis Duvergel reached base on a one-out single and scored on an RBI triple off the bat of Hector Olivera. On the play, U.S. second baseman Brian Barden (Templeton, Calif.) attempted to throw out Olivera at third base but threw errantly to third baseman Mike Hessman (Fountain Valley, Calif.) allowing Olivera to score the second run.

Team USA cut the deficit to 2-1 with a run in the top of the fourth inning. Barden led off with a base hit followed by a single to center field from Nate Schierholtz (Danville, Calif.), giving the U.S. a pair of runners. After a groundout to the left side advanced the runners to second and third, the U.S. scored its first run of the game on a sacrifice fly to left field by Brown.

The lead extended back to two runs, though, as Cuba answered in the bottom of the fourth with Despaigne knocking a two-out solo homer to deep left-center.

Team USA answered in the top of the fifth inning and cut the deficit to a run again with Donald tallying an RBI base hit. That run was unearned, since with one out Lou Marson (Scottsdale, Ariz.) reached base on a fielding error by right fielder Alexei Bell. The catcher reached second base on the play as the ball dropped in between Bell and second baseman Yuliesky Gourriel after miscommunication. Marson would then score when Donald ripped a base hit up the middle, who just edged out the throw at the plate from center fielder Giorbis Duvergel.

“The hitters didn’t show up today,” said Brian Barden. “We put up two runs early and really didn’t get anything going. As a hitter, I take the blame for how the game went along. Stephen [Strasburg] pitched a pretty solid game. The few mistakes that we had — you can’t make those in these big games. You have to come out and pretty much be perfect and today we weren’t.”

Friday’s Results:

Semifinal No. 1: (1) Korea def. (4) Japan, 6-2
Semifinal No. 2: (2) Cuba vs. (3) United States, 10-2

Medal Round Schedule:

Bronze Medal: Japan vs. United States, Friday at 10:30 p.m. EDT
Gold Medal: Korea vs. Cuba, Saturday at 6 a.m. EDT

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