Kyle Tucker hit a home run for the United States in a World Baseball Classic quarter-final victory over Venezuela

Miami (AFP) - Trea Turner’s grand slam home run lifted defending champion United States over Venezuela 9-7 on Saturday and into a World Baseball Classic semi-final against political rival Cuba.

American Major League Baseball stars will face Cuba in a tension-packed Sunday semi-final while unbeaten two-time Classic champions Japan meet Mexico in a Monday semi-final with the championship showdown set for Tuesday night.

“We’ve just got to keep battling,” Turner said. “It’s win or go home. We’ve got another one. We’ve got to get ready for it.

“We’ve been talking about how big this moment is for everybody. We wanted to match the energy – the fans were electric and those guys were tough.”

The US squad and the baseball-loving Caribbeans from the Communist island nation, a traditional global power in the amateur ranks, have been long-time rivals, with a number of top Cuban players defecting to play for US clubs.

This year’s Cuban side has some MLB talent, a nod to the struggles past Cuban teams have had in the Classic.

The Americans had to rally past a Venezuelan squad that had made a perfect 4-0 start in an emotional quarter-final before a sellout crowd of 35,792 at Miami to book the Cuba grudge match.

“When you get punched in the mouth, you’ve got to respond,” Turner said.

Luis Arraez, who plays for the Miami Marlins, hit two homers and drove in four runs for Venezuela in a losing cause, his solo blast in the seventh inning giving Venezuela a 7-5 lead.

But in the US eighth, Tim Anderson walked, Pete Alonso singled and J.T. Realmuto was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Turner, who smashed a grand slam homer to left field off Venezuelan reliever Silvino Bracho to put the Americans ahead by the final margin.

“It’s probably number one homer-wise,” Turner said. “I’ve hit a couple homers here and there but none that big.

“It was electric. It was really fun. I don’t even really know what I did. I feel like I blacked out. It was a big homer. It was fun. It was unbelievable.”

The Venezuelans were blanked in the eighth and ninth to secure the victory.

- USA starts fast -

Venezuelan starting pitcher Martin Perez was pulled after five batters with the US squad ahead 3-0 after consecutive singles by Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Kyle Tucker.

Arraez answered with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first.

The defending champions struck again in the fourth when Kyle Schwarber singled, advanced on a fielder’s choice and throwing error and scored on a Betts sacrifice fly.

Tucker’s solo homer in the fifth inning gave the USA a 5-2 lead but Venezuela answered with four runs in the bottom of the fifth.

A bases-loaded wild pitch by US hurler Daniel Bard brought in one run and Arraez drove in another on a fielder’s choice.

Catcher Salvador Perez doubled to score Luis Rengifo and Arraez scored on a sacrifice fly by Ronald Acuna Jr. to give the Venezuelans their first lead.

But Venezuela lost star second baseman Jose Altuve of the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros in the fifth when he was struck in the hands by a Bard pitch, the ball appearing to hit his right hand and left wrist.