Team Italy wins 2023 WBC debut with 6-3 extra-inning victory over Cuba

Team Italy wins 2023 WBC debut with 6-3 extra-inning victory over Cuba
Making their WBC Pool A debut against Cuba at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taiwan on Thursday night, March 9, 2023, the Italians defeated Cuba 6-3 in 10 innings. Team Italy returns for a clash against host Chinese Taipei under the lights on Friday, March 9, 2023 at 6 am (EST).

Having lost to the Kingdom of the Netherlands 4-2 the day prior, Cuba needed to beat Team Italy in WBC Pool A, but the resilient Italians put the winless Cubans in the cellar of group play with a 6-3 extra-inning victory on Thursday night, March 9, 2023.  

Team Italy manager Mike Piazza spoke about starting pitcher Matt “the Dark Knight” Harvey at the pregame press conference. The Italian skipper and National Baseball Hall of Famer said, “He's pitched in the World Series, so that's big. He made an incredible effort to want to be part of this team because, as I mentioned, he doesn't necessarily have an Italian name, but his mother's name is Venditti, and his family roots are from outside of Rome close to Frosinone. I was surprised and excited that he was Italian and we were able to do his lineage and make him eligible for the team.”

Pitcher Matt Harvey did not disappoint as he had an easy 1-2-3 out bottom of the first inning. Despite a double by David Fletcher off Cuba starter Roenis Elias, the Italians were unable to score in the top of the second inning. Another missed opportunity occurred in the top of the third inning when Miles Mastrobuoni led off with a stand-up double but was left stranded on second base. 

After back-to-back singles from Cuba’s Yadir Blake and Yadil Mujica in the bottom of the third inning, the Team Italy defense came to the rescue of veteran pitcher Matt Harvey with a foul ball out near the stands by third baseman Nicky Lopez and two groundout assists by second baseman Miles Mastrobuoni and shortstop David Fletcher.  

Azzurri reliever Andre Pallante entered the contest in the bottom of the fourth inning and surrendered a single to DH Alfredo Despaigne. Once again the excellent Team Italy infield rose to the occasion and executed a fielder’s choice followed by a 6-4-3 double play to quell any potential Cuba rally. 

The bottom of the fifth inning gave those weak of heart a big scare. After Team Italy pitcher Andre Pallante issued a leadoff walk to Lorenzo Quintana, a sacrifice bunt and a groundout advanced the runner to third base. A walk to Yoelkis Guibert put runners on the corners, but a strikeout of Yoan Moncada ended the scoring threat. 

The Team Italy offense came to life in the top of the sixth inning when Cuba went to the bullpen and summoned reliever Jose Rodriguez. Singles by Sal Frelick, Vinnie Pasquantino and Dominic Fletcher prompted another call to the bullpen for lefty relief pitcher Naykel Cruz. Then Azzurri catcher Brett Sullivan hit a sacrifice fly to right field to allow Sal Frelick to score and give the Italians a slim 1-0 advantage.

Team Italy right-handed reliever Vinny Nittoli looked strong in the bottom of the sixth inning when striking out Luis Robert Jr. and Alfredo Despaigne and inducing a Yoenis Cespedes groundout.  The Italians added an insurance run in the top of the seventh inning. Cuba's Livan Moinello replaced reliever Naykel Cruz after giving up a single to Nicky Lopez, but the usually reliable Cuban stopper got stung when Miles Mastrobuoni hit an RBI double to put the Azzurri squad n front 2-0.  

Cuba answered with one run in the bottom of the seventh inning when a triple by Erisbel Arruebarrena and an RBI single by Lorenzo Quintana made it a 2-1 game. Team Italy lefty Joe LaSorsa entered the contest in relief of Vinny Nittoli with one out and a runner on first base. Pinch hitter Davan Garcia was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second base for Yoelkis Guibert, who grounded into a fielder’s choice. Then pitcher Joe LaSorsa dug down deep to get a crucial strikeout of Yoan Moncada to preserve the Azzurri 2-1 lead. 

Team Italy was 90 feet from scoring in the top of the eighth inning but was denied. After Vinnie Pasquantino singled and Dominic Fletcher walked, both runners advanced into scoring position on a passed ball. Cuban reliever Raidel Martinez was brought into the ballgame and held the Italians scoreless. 

Azzurri reliever Matt Festa made his 2023 WBC debut in the bottom of the eighth inning when a double by Alfredo Despaigne and an RBI by Erisbel Arruebarrena tied the game 2-2. The trustworthy reliever regained his composure quickly and pitched a hitless bottom of the ninth inning to put the game into extra innings.

As per tie-breaker rule, the top of the 10th inning began with Sal Frelick placed on second base and John Valente at bat. Team Italy regained the 3-2 lead when the speedy Sal Frelick stole third base and designated hitter John Valente connected with an RBI single up the middle. Cuba went to the bullpen once more and brought in lefty Onelki Garcia, who surrendered an RBI double to Dominic Fletcher. An intentional walk to brother David Fletcher followed by a wild pitch put two Fletchers in scoring position. Then Nicky Lopez came through in the clutch with a two-run single up the middle to give the Azzurri a 6-2 cushion. 

Team Italy manager Mike Piazza called on closer Mitchell Stumpo to secure the victory for the Italians. Although a single by Luis Robert Jr. put one run across the plate for Cuba, the resilient Azzurri squad prevailed in the 6-3 extra-inning victory.


With the 6-3 win over Cuba, Team Italy (1-0) returns to Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium to face host Chinese Taipei under the lights on Friday, March 9, 2023 at 6 am (EST). Forza #Italia!

by Roberto Angotti


(Photo of Team Italy's Miles Mastrobuoni at bat against Cuba by IABF)