Brazil hopes to give Cuba all it can handle at the WBC

Mar 2, 2013 - 4:03 PM (Sports Network) - Brazil was thought to be an afterthought in Pool A of the World Baseball Classic.

The first-time qualifier, though, was anything but in its opener, as it gave two-time defending champion Japan all it could handle. It will look to do the same to Cuba on Saturday at the Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome.

Brazil opened its tournament on Saturday with a terrific effort, as it nearly pulled off a shocker and found itself six outs away from beating Japan. However, it couldn't hold on and Japan crossed the plate three times in the eighth to hand Brazil a 5-3 setback.

Seiichi Uchikawa led off the top of the eighth for Japan with a base hit off Oscar Nakaoshi (0-1) and advanced on a bunt before scoring the tying run on Hirokazu Ibata's single into right field.

Kelsey Kondo took over on the mound for Brazil and promptly yielded a single and a walk to load the bases. Shinnosuke Abe then plated Ibata with a force out before Nobuhiro Matsuda singled home another run for the final margin.

Brazil went down quietly in the home eighth before bringing the tying run to the plate in the ninth after Tiago Magalhaes singled off Kazuhisa Makita with one out. Makita then fanned JC Muniz and got Iago Januario on a fly ball to center to close it out.

Leonardo Reginatto went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two runs batted in for Brazil. Reinaldo Sato also knocked in a run in defeat.

Cuba, meanwhile, is one of the more decorated teams on the international stage, winning three gold medals and two silvers in five Olympic Games. Cuba has also won the International Baseball Federation World Cup 25 times since its inception in 1938.

However, the baseball powerhouse has come up short in big games of late. Cuba fell to Japan in the 2006 WBC championship game, then dropped the Gold Medal game at the 2008 Beijing Games to Korea.

At the 2009 WBC, Cuba failed to get out of the second round, falling to eventual champion Japan twice. It marked the lowest finish ever in international competition for Cuba.

Mass defections, of course, have taken their toll on the Cuban roster. Instead of Aroldis Chapman or Yoenis Cespedes leading the way, the Cubans are paced by infielder Yulieski Gourriel and first baseman Jose Abreu, whose power has drawn comparisons to both Ryan Howard and Barry Bonds.

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