Turner, Goldschmidt propel U.S. into WBC’s final

Olympics

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MIAMI — The best No. 9 hitter in the world helped send Team USA to the World Baseball Classic finals.

One day after his go-ahead grand slam saved its tournament, Trea Turner hit a pair of home runs and drove in four runs Sunday to lead the United States past Cuba 14-2 in front of a highly charged, sold-out crowd of 35,779 at LoanDepot Park.

On a night where chants of “Libertad!” rang throughout the stadium intermittently and a protestor ran onto the field in the top of the sixth inning holding a banner calling for the freedom of prisoners from the July 11, 2021, anti-government protests in Cuba, the United States dismantled a Cuban team whose appearance in the semifinals exceeded pre-tournament expectations.

Protesters holding Cuban flags crashed the field in the seventh and eighth innings as well, highlighting the tension prompted by Cuba’s national team playing here for the first time.

The night on the field belonged to Turner, the 29-year-old shortstop who signed an 11-year, $300 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies over the winter and has spent the past four WBC games hitting ninth for a team filled with superstars. On his first swing following the eighth-inning grand slam that pushed the U.S. past previously undefeated Venezuela on Saturday, Turner hammered a second-inning solo home run that staked the U.S. to a 3-1 lead. Turner’s three-run blast in the sixth turned a game teetering on the precipice of a blowout into an undoubted one, putting Team USA ahead, 12-2.

Up and down the lineup, American stars shone. Leadoff hitter Mookie Betts went 3 for 6 and scored twice. Paul Goldschmidt, whose two-run home run in the first gave the U.S. a lead it never relinquished, had a pair of hits and drove in four. Cleanup hitter Nolan Arenado went 2 for 3 with two runs before leaving the game after being hit by a pitch. (X-rays were negative.) Cedric Mullins homered to account for the final run. Turner’s line was best of all: 3 for 5 with four RBIs to give him a tournament-best 10. Turner also set a U.S. record for home runs in a WBC (four) and tied the mark for home runs in a WBC game with Ken Griffey Jr., who is serving as Team USA’s hitting coach.

Cuba, for the first time fielding a team in an international tournament with players from Major League Baseball, looked overmatched for most of the night, though its hot start riled up a crowd filled with supporters of the team if not its government. Three infield singles off U.S. starter Adam Wainwright loaded the bases with no outs and an Alfredo Despaigne walk gave Cuba a 1-0 lead.

Wainwright wriggled out of the jam and didn’t look back, throwing three scoreless innings after that before giving way to his St. Louis Cardinals teammate, Miles Mikolas, who followed with four more innings, working around trouble to allow only a run-scoring Andy Ibanez single in the fifth.

Next up for Team USA is the winner of Japan and Mexico, who play Monday night. Japan will start its flamethrowing 21-year-old phenom, Roki Sasaki, and also plans to throw Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who has won the Sawamura Award — Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young — each of the last two seasons. Mexico, which handed the U.S. its only WBC loss and beat a game Puerto Rico team in the quarterfinals, will start Los Angeles Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval.

After winning the first two WBCs in 2006 and 2009, Japan lost in the semifinals in 2013 and 2017, the latter to the U.S. team that won the tournament. Mexico never has made the final four of the tournament.

By using Wainwright and Mikolas, U.S. manager Mark DeRosa narrowed the options to start the finals to Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly, Kansas City right-hander Brady Singer, Colorado Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland or a reliever serving as opener.

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