Cuban ace Jimenez quiets feisty Brazil squad
Arruebarruena's two RBIs pace Cuba, as Brazil is pushed to the brink
FUKUOKA, Japan -- Cuba manager Victor Mesa has been the picture of confidence since setting foot in Fukuoka for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
It probably had a lot to do with the guy he was sending to the mound for Cuba's opener.
Starter Ismel Jimenez set the tone early, and the Cuban lineup buried Brazil under a barrage of singles to earn a 5-2 win Sunday afternoon at Fukuoka's Yafuoku Dome.
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"First of all, I'm happy because we won," Jimenez said through a translator. "Everyone [felt] strongly that we wanted to win, and we did."
Jimenez lived up to his billing as Cuba's ace, striking out six, while allowing four hits and walking none in 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
Despite the litany of sluggers up and down the Cuban lineup, Mesa's club was hitless through four innings and managed only one extra-base hit, a double by Yasamany Tomas in the seventh.
Two of Cuba's singles came from the bat of shortstop Barbaro Arruebarruena, who finished 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Designated hitter Frederich Cepeda was also 2-for-4.
"Some of the players aren't playing as we had planned," Mesa said through a translator. "I know baseball is a tough game and even if it looks easy, it's difficult. Bottom line, I am happy because we got a [good] result."
Brazil was hoping to pull off a shocker less than 24 hours after nearly upsetting two-time defending Classic champion Japan.
"It was a competitive ballgame," Brazil manager Barry Larkin said. "Guys went out there to fight. Unfortunately, we came up short today."
The Brazilians barely had time to catch their breath, wrapping up a 5-3 loss to Japan at 10:30 p.m. local time Saturday before kicking things off against Cuba at 12:39 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Now they'll need to win their finale against China and get help in order to qualify for the second round.
For a while it looked like Brazil was going to pick up where it left off against Japan.
Starter Andre Rienzo, a right-hander in the White Sox organization, did what he could, allowing a pair of runs on one hit. He struck out two, but walked four.
"Rienzo struggled with his control early, but then he was able to settle down," Larkin said. "He was kind of in a groove when he got to that 65-pitch limit [in the fifth inning]." Rienzo shook off a shaky start and had retired nine straight before walking Jose Fernandez to lead off the fifth. Eriel Sanchez couldn't get down a sacrifice bunt attempt, but a single by Arruebarruena gave the Cubans runners on the corners.
Guillermo Heredia followed with an RBI groundout during the at-bat that pushed Rienzo over the first-round's pitch limit. Alexi Bell made the score 2-0 with an RBI single to left against reliever Ernesto Noris.
Cepeda and Jose Abreu led off the sixth with singles and Alfredo Despaigne was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Raul Gonzalez hit into a fielder's choice that brought one run in, and Arruebarruena plated two more with a single.
The Brazilians pushed across a pair of unearned runs in the sixth to pull within three.
Brazil's Juan Muniz was hoping to spark a rally with a leadoff double in the seventh, but he was ruled to have missed the bag at first and was later ruled out on appeal.
Whatever positive energy the Brazilians had fizzled at that point, and they just didn't have enough to challenge Cuba from that point on.
"I was very impressed with the pitching," Larkin said of the Cubans. "[I] certainly knew the players were going to be aggressive -- good defensive ballclub, free-spirited ballclub. When you come to play against Cuba, you're going to have to come and bring your best. That's what I expected, and that's exactly what I saw today."
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.