Team USA is rolling and believing nobody can stop them as they reach World Baseball Classic finals

MIAMI — It was hardly easy.

There were rough moments.

Plenty of frustrating and anxious times.

But here is Team USA, back in the World Baseball Classic finals, just where they thought they’d wind up all along.

Team USA laughed their way to a 14-2 victory over Cuba on Sunday night, and then turned the postgame into a comedy club routine.

On Tuesday night, they will play the winner of the Japan-Mexico game at loanDepot Park where they will once again have the home-field advantage, and feeling like they are the ’27 Yankees the way they are playing these days.

USA got beat up by Mexico in the first round, barely survived Venezuela in the quarterfinals, but now have never felt better about themselves, convinced this is their year.

Once again.

When you’re swinging the bats like Team USA these days, hitting .382 with 23 runs, five doubles, one triple and six homers the past two games, why shouldn’t they feel invincible?

Starter Adam Wainwright can certainly attest, permitting the first four Cuban baserunners to reach base without getting an out in the first inning, down 1-0 before he knew it, and have his St. Louis Cardinals teammate Paul Goldschmidt step up and hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.

“He comes in after the home run,’’ Wainwright says, “and the first thing he does, he goes right to me and he says, 'We got you.' I felt like our entire lineup today, they really, really put the pitchers on their back, and they let us know from the early standpoint that they came to play.

“When my guy looks at me, and says that, I believed him.’’

Paul Goldschmidt hits a two-run home run during the first inning against Cuba.
Paul Goldschmidt hits a two-run home run during the first inning against Cuba.

Said Goldschmidt: “I mean, honestly, for me, that was one of my favorite home runs I've ever hit in my entire life.’’

Team USA’s offense was relentless, scoring runs in all but one inning, with a scoreboard line of 2-1-2-2-2-4 in runs scored the first six innings.

When you’ve got a guy batting ninth, hitting three homers with eight RBI in the last two games, you know you’ve got something special going on.

Trea Turner, who had never batted ninth in a starting lineup until this tournament, set a USA record with four home runs and 10 RBI in the WBC.

Can you imagine what he’d do if he batted in the middle of the lineup?

“I kept saying every time he went deep,’’ USA manager Mark DeRosa said, “Who is the idiot that's hitting him ninth? But that's the way this lineup's built.’’

You know you got a lethal lineup when Jeff McNeil, who won the NL batting title last season for the New York Mets, hasn’t started a game since the opening day of the tournament. Kansas City Royals rookie sensation Bobby Witt Jr. has only two plate appearances. It got so silly Sunday that when right fielder Mookie Betts wanted a breather, he switched positions with McNeil, and played second base while McNeil went to right field.

“Yeah, they're swinging the bats good, they're having fun being around each other,’’ DeRosa says, “they're passing the baton, they're not having selfish ABs [at-bats], constant pressure. I'm blown away by the way these guys control the strike zone.

“So have some fun, relax, and let the pitchers do their thing.’’

And, oh yeah, are they ever having a blast.

Turner, who joked wondering what he has to do to get out of the ninth spot, remembers telling his teammates that he hadn’t hit a home run in four or five spring trainings.  He just hit three in 24 hours.

“It's kind of funny how it works out,’’ Turner said, “but I don't ask questions.’’

No wonder after Turner hit his second home run Sunday, Goldschmidt walked up to him and said, “Quit showing us up.’’

Said Wainwright: “What a fun team where Trea Turner bats ninth, I tell you what.’’

You know something special is happening when Turner is told that he has more home runs and RBI than any USA player in WBC history, and his two homers Sunday tied Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., and he has only one response.

“Just can't wait to tell him,’’ Turner said. “I don't know if he knows that. I didn't know that, but can't wait to have that conversation with him in the cage.’’

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The names on the front of the jerseys may say "USA," but the names on the back, Wainwright says, might as well say "St. Louis Cardinals." There were four Cardinals who played in Sunday's game: Wainwright, Goldschmidt, third baseman Nolan Arenado and pitcher Miles Mikolas.

“It was Team Cardinal today,’’ Wainwright said. “We had four guys out there representing today. But we were glad to be here and represent our country.’’

Just think what kind of party it would have been for the Cardinals if Puerto Rico had advanced into the semifinals, with Cardinals great Yadier Molina managing the team?

“So, he's been giving me the silent treatment,’’ Wainwright said. “We watched that documentary 'Redeem Team' where Kobe really set a tone running into Pau Gasol and showing it. I really think that's what he was trying to do.

“I would text him, 'Hey, congratulations.’ Nothing.

“I call him, 'Hey, congratulations.' Nothing.

“All right, man, I get it. I'll talk to you after the tournament.

“But you know how he gets. He wanted to win and I know he was bummed that he didn't.

“But I did send him a text message — even though I knew he wasn't going to respond — that said, 'Hey, I know you're bummed that you lost, but we're all very proud of you and how you handled that.'"

Yep, and Wainwright still is waiting for that response, too.

It was that way all evening after the game, with Mike Trout posing for pictures with Cuban players, Turner laughing about throwing his ripped batting gloves away to prove he’s not superstitious, and everyone getting ready for the ultimate showdown.

They will either play Mexico, who stunned USA in the first round in Phoenix, or Japan, where Yu Darvish is expected to start, and perhaps Shohei Ohtani will finish.

Considering the way USA is swinging the bats, maybe it really won’t matter.

“As this tournament has progressed, these guys, they're at-bat quality has just gotten better and better,’’ DeRosa said. “They have relaxed, they understand each other. No one's trying to impress each other.

“There's just a lot of team unity right now.’’

It certainly took a while for this team to gel, and undoubtedly it is flawed, but if they win one more game, put those gold medals around their necks, all those blemishes will be forgotten.

“I think it took us a little bit of time,’’ Turner said, “but now we kind of found our stride.’’

Perhaps, just in the nick of time.

Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Team USA bats come alive en route to World Baseball Classic final