MIAMI -- At the bottom of the billion-dollar lineup that sent Team USA to the finals of the World Baseball Classic with a 14-2 thumping of Cuba on Sunday night resides the most dangerous No. 9 hitter anyone around baseball can remember. Trea Turner, to be clear, is not anyone's idea of a ninth-place hitter, but then the American lineup is not any ordinary squad of hitters, either.
The shellacking that the United States put on Cuba in front of a highly charged, sold-out crowd of 35,779 at LoanDepot Park concluded a wild 24 hours in which Turner hit a tournament-saving grand slam to beat Venezuela in the quarterfinals and followed with two more home runs in Sunday's semifinals. The U.S. will face the winner of Japan and Mexico, which plays here at 7 p.m. ET on Monday.
On a night when chants of "Libertad!" rang throughout the stadium intermittently and three protestors ran onto the field to great applause from the crowd, the U.S. dismantled a Cuban team whose appearance in the semifinals exceeded pretournament expectations. While Japan remains the favorite, the Team USA that showed up Sunday looked like even more of a juggernaut than it did in 2017, when it won the title. That team didn't have Turner, let alone Mookie Betts or Mike Trout, who occupy this lineup's top two spots. Add Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, Kyle Schwarber and Will Smith, Pete Alonso and Tim Anderson and the potential for pitchers to find themselves as confounded as Cuba's is acute.
"I have to pinch myself all the time realizing this lineup is just -- I've never seen anything like it," U.S. starter Adam Wainwright told ESPN after allowing one run over four innings in the win. "Has there ever been a better one? Probably not."
Turner is not the sort to render an opinion on such things. He is famously steady and unfussy, and amid the celebrations in the U.S. dugout of his feats, Turner tried his best to remain entirely stoic. On his first swing following the eighth-inning grand slam that pushed the U.S. past previously undefeated Venezuela, Turner hammered a second-inning solo home run that staked the U.S. to a 3-1 lead against Cuba. Turner's three-run blast in the sixth turned a game teetering on the precipice of a blowout into an undoubted one, putting Team USA ahead 12-2.
Up and down the lineup, American stars shone. Betts went 3-for-6 and scored twice. Arenado was 2-for-3 with two runs before leaving the game after being hit by a pitch. (He told ESPN he will play in the final.) Cedric Mullins homered to account for the final run. Goldschmidt, whose two-run home run in the first gave the U.S. a lead it never relinquished, had a pair of hits and drove in four runs.
"That was one of my favorite home runs I've ever hit in my entire life," said Goldschmidt, who, along with the rest of the U.S. players, marveled at the atmosphere at LoanDepot Park, where Cuba was playing for the first time.
Turner's line was best of all: 3-for-5 with four RBIs to give him a tournament-best 10. Turner also set a U.S. record for home runs in a WBC (four) and tied the mark for home runs in a WBC game with Ken Griffey Jr., who is serving as Team USA's hitting coach.
"Just can't wait to tell him," Turner said.
After signing an 11-year, $300 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies over the winter, the 29-year-old Turner spent the past four WBC games -- all U.S. wins -- hitting ninth. Mark DeRosa said he considered moving Turner from the No. 9 hole to sixth for the Cuba game, but the manager explained, "There's a flow to the lineup right now that I didn't want to mess with. He seems fine with it."
Turner, truthfully, is fine with just about anything. He ripped his batting glove and chucked it right in the garbage, neither overly sentimental nor particularly superstitious. When Schwarber, his Phillies teammate, emerged from the clubhouse, rolled his eyes and said toward Turner, "We get it. You hit two homers and a grand slam," Turner chuckled at the good-natured ribbing. Pragmatism might be Turner's most obvious quality -- aside perhaps from the sneaky power and elite speed that make him one of the best players in baseball.
"I don't do a lot of emotion," Turner told ESPN. "Just because you hit a homer one at-bat doesn't mean you're going to do anything the next time. So compartmentalize, and when the day's over, you kind of take a step back, see what happened and then move on from there."
What Turner sees when he takes a step back is a lineup currently on contracts worth well over $1.5 billion. "I know I got really good guys behind me," he said. "Mookie, Mike, Paul, Nolan ... "
Cuba, for the first time fielding a team in an international tournament with players from Major League Baseball, got tired of that U.S. lineup quickly after its own hot start riled up a crowd filled with supporters of the team if not its government. Three infield singles off Wainwright loaded the bases with no outs and an Alfredo Despaigne walk gave Cuba a 1-0 lead. Wainwright wriggled out of the jam and didn't look back before giving way to his St. Louis Cardinals teammate Miles Mikolas, who followed with four more innings, working around trouble to allow only a run-scoring Andy Ibanez single in the fifth.
Team USA will take Monday off and watch the game between its potential opponents. Japan will start its flamethrowing 21-year-old phenom Roki Sasaki and also plans to throw Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who has won the Sawamura Award -- Japan's equivalent of the Cy Young -- each of the past two seasons. If Japan grabs a comfortable lead, Yamamoto could be saved for Team USA. Mexico, which handed the U.S. its only WBC loss and beat a game Puerto Rico team in the quarterfinals, will start Los Angeles Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval.
After winning the first two WBCs, in 2006 and 2009, Japan lost in the semifinals in 2013 and 2017, the latter to the U.S. team that won the tournament. This is the first time Mexico has made the final four of the tourney.