USA, Cuba to meet in World Cup final

USA, Cuba to meet in World Cup final

Two years after Team USA ended Cuba's string of nine consecutive baseball World Cup golds, a rematch for that title is set for today in Nettuno, Italy.

With a first pitch at 9 a.m. ET and streaming live on via the MLB Network, the United States (13-1 in the tournament) will bring a 13-game winning streak into the 2009 gold-medal game with perennial power Cuba, which has gone 12-2, including a 5-3 loss to the U.S. on Thursday.

The game will feature the same two teams from the 2007 final in Chinese Taipei, which the U.S. won, 6-3, over Cuba to claim its third World Cup. However, Cuba has won 25 of the first 29 World Cup titles.

Team USA heads into the final on a roll that started after it lost its tourney opener, 13-9, in 11 innings to Venezuela on Sept. 10. Featuring a number of Minor League stars, Team USA has used a balanced attack to march to the finals.

Rangers prospect Justin Smoak already has set a U.S. tournament record with nine homers and leads the club with 21 RBIs. Terry Tiffee, a former Major Leaguer who played for the Phillies' organization this season, has added four homers and 19 RBIs. Jon Weber (Rays) leads the team in hitting at .435.

The U.S. pitching staff has a 1.93 ERA and is led by Lucas Harrell of the White Sox organization (3-0, 0.00 ERA in 10 innings of relief) and a five-man starting rotation that has allowed a total of 12 earned runs in 83 innings.

Cuba's Alfredo Despaigne, meanwhile, homered on Friday to break the Cuban and World Cup record for home runs in one event, with 10. Cuba's pitching staff leads the tournament with a 1.70 ERA.

The live streaming of the MLB Network broadcast, featuring Noah Coslov and Jim Duquette in the booth, will be part of the most widely broadcast International Baseseball Federation Baseball World Cup event.

Today's final will cap off a 22-team tournament that began Sept. 9. On Saturday, Canada captured its first bronze medal in the international competition with a 6-2 win over Puerto Rico. In Saturday's other action, Australia downed the Netherlands, 4-1, for a fifth-place finish and its best World Cup showing, and Venezuela claimed seventh place with a 6-3 triumph over Chinese Taipei.

Today's final will mark the seventh time Cuba and the USA have played for World Cup gold, with Cuba holding a 6-1 lead. Today's game will be played at Stadio "Steno Borghese" in Nettuno, which according to the IBAF is known as Italy's foremost baseball town.

Team USA is looking to take back-to-back titles for only the second time, the last time being in 1973-74. The U.S. has won the World Cup in 1973, 1974 and 2007.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.