By John Manuel
October 12, 2003
Team USA flunked its first test in the Arizona Fall League.
In the first game of a two-week trial to determine the roster for the upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament, Team USA fell behind early and lost 8-2 to the Mesa Solar Sox. The Solar Sox scored in each of the first five innings off Team USA pitchers Adam Wainwright (Braves) and Jason Stanford (Indians), and the Team USA offense was limited to six hits by four Mesa pitchers.
The first-place Solar Sox are off to a fast start and have won seven in a row in the AFL. It’s players have been playing for nearly two weeks, while Team USA is just getting started, but manager Frank Robinson’s squad still put together an uninspiring performance.
On a team lacking in the kind of power arms that have been so successful for Team USA in the past, Wainwright is one of the best prospects but got roughed up Friday in his first audition for the team. Jonny Gomes (Devil Rays) hit a solo homer in the first, and Mesa put up a pair of runs in the second and one in the third on a solo homer by Kris Wilken (Orioles).
Team USA’s offense came largely from first baseman Graham Koonce (Athletics), who led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with 34 homers and 105 RBIs. His solo homer in the second tied the game briefly at 1-1, and he later added an RBI double. He was 2-for-3 with both Team USA RBIs while batting fifth in the order.
Team USA, whose players have not seen game action since the end of the minor league season, is using the AFL as a sort of spring training. So winning the games isn’t as important as finding out which players are most deserving of making the final 24-man roster for the qualifier in Panama City, Panama, which starts Oct. 31. Team USA has to reach the gold-medal game of the qualifier to earn a shot at defending the gold medal it won in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics.
Wainwright and Stanford didn’t make a good impression Friday. Wainwright allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in three innings. Stanford worked two innings and fared no better, also surrendering four runs (three earned) on five hits. Relievers Todd Williams (Devil Rays) and Jesse Crain (Twins) threw three shutout innings of relief.
Team USA will next take on the Scottsdale Scorpions on Saturday with righthander Justin Duchscherer (Athletics) getting the start.