Netherlands Tops Cuba 4-2 to Open World Baseball Classic

Cuba Yoenis Cespedes gets a hit during the Pool A game against Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

TAICHUNG, Taiwan (AP) — The 20-team World Baseball Classic got underway after a six-year absence with the Netherlands defeating Cuba 4-2 in a Group A game in Taiwan to open the tournament.

In a late game on Wednesday, Panama played Taiwan in Group A.

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 World Baseball Classic in which MLB players are eligible to play for Cuba. Former MLB player Yoenis Cespedes, 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.

Cespedes, 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.

Didi 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 a Chadwick Tromp single scored two more.

Cuba cut it to 4-2 in the seventh but could not get any more.