In the opening game for Group B of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Cuba easily bested South Africa 8-1. Cuba’s 13-hit attack included six home runs, a new WBC single-game record.
But let’s not get carried away.
Yes, the Cubans are incredible athletes with a passion for baseball. Yes, they combine well-honed skills with fiery determination. They have always been an international force in baseball. They are certainly favored to win Group B and move on to the second round in San Diego.
Cuba has won the Baseball World Cup 25 times, and in the inaugural WBC in 2006 placed second to Japan. They also won the gold medal in three of the last five Olympics (finishing second the other two times).
An 8-1 defeat of South Africa—a baseball infant compared to Cuba—is not all that impressive. Don’t read too much into the six home runs either. All were well-struck line drives that carried extremely well in the high altitude of Mexico City, clearing the relatively short fences at Estadio Foro Sol.
Both teams played well defensively in this game. Neither made any errors, and South Africa even pulled off three double plays and two pickoffs. The South Africans only managed four singles off Cuban pitchers and struck out 11 times.
South Africa now faces elimination Monday against Mexico, who is likely reeling after a 17-7 loss to Australia.
There indeed may be a Cuban juggernaut waiting for Australia and the rest of the WBC field. But this showing against South Africa certainly doesn’t guarantee that.