TAICHUNG – The 20-team World Baseball Classic got underway after a six-year absence with Panama defeating Taiwan 12-5 for its first win in tournament history and the Netherlands beating Cuba 4-2 as Didi Gregorius drove in the tying run and scored the go-ahead run.
Play in Group B begins on Thursday in Tokyo with South Korea playing Australia and host Japan — led by Angels star Shohei Ohtani — up against China. Play in Groups C and D begins Saturday in Phoenix and Miami.
The United States won the last tournament in 2017 and is among the favorites with the Dominican Republic and Japan. Japan has won it twice (2006, 2009) and the Dominicans once (2013).
This is the first WBC in which MLB players are eligible to play for Cuba. Former MLB player Yoenis Céspedes, who played for Cuba in the event in 2009, hit .458 in that tournament and began his MLB career three years later with the Oakland Athletics. He played in part of eight seasons with Oakland, Boston, Detroit and the New York Mets.
Céspedes, playing as the DH, was hitless and walked twice as Cuba managed only three hits. The game was a matchup between the two favorites in the group, giving the Dutch a big lift right out of the gate.
Cuba went ahead 1-0 in the second on a double by Yadil Mujica to score Yoelkis Guibert.
Gregorius singled home Roger Bernadina to tie it 1-1 in the third. The Netherlands took a 4-1 lead in the sixth when Josh Palacios singled home Gregorius, and Chadwick Tromp added a two-run single.
Cuba cut it to 4-2 in the seventh.
PANAMA 12, TAIWAN 5
Panama won after going 0-5 in its first two WBC appearances in 2006 and 2009.
Taiwan was down 12-2 in the bottom of the seventh and faced a loss under the 10-run mercy rule after seven innings. But Nien-Ting Wu hit a two-run homer and pushed the game to the full nine innings.
Taiwan got another run in the eighth to make it 12-5.
Panama had 14 hits, led by Jonathan Arauz with two hits and three RBIs. The Central Americans were also issued eight walks.
Taiwan had 13 hits. Tsung-Che Cheng and Wu — the home run hitter — had three hits each.
The WBC is being played without the pitch clock, and this game lasted four hours.
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