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2004 Olympics: Austrailia To Face Cuba For Gold
Compiled By John Manuel
Oxspring, Williams shut out Japan; Cuba rallies past Canada
Complete Index of 2004 Olympic Coverage
Australia 1, Japan 0
Righthander Chris Oxspring (Padres) and former big leaguer Jeff Williams combined to pitch a five-hit shutout as Australia upset top seed Japan in a 1-0 victory to advance to the gold-medal game on Wednesday in an Olympic baseball semifinal.
Australia meets the winner of the Cuba-Canada game will be making its first appearance in a gold-medal game, assuring the country its first medal in baseball. The win also marks Australia's second win against Japan after defeating the Japanese in the round-robin.
Coming off an eight-inning, one-hit performance on the mound against Italy last Tuesday, Oxspring was outstanding again on the mound as he out-dueled Japan ace Daisuke Matsuzaka. Oxspring, who is 5-4, 3.87 at Triple-A Portland this season, scattered five hits, did not yield a walk and finished with five strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings of work to pick up the victory. Williams, who pitches for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan's Central League, retired all seven batters he faced out of the bullpen to earn the save.
"We stuck to our plan," Australia manager John Deeble said. "Our pitching was fantastic, and it was a good team effort."
The game was scoreless until the sixth, when Australia dented Matsuzaka for the game's only run. Brett Roneberg (Red Sox) singled with one out, advanced on a walk to Dave Nilsson, and went to third on a fielder's choice grounder by Glenn Williams (Blue Jays).
With runners on the corners and two outs, former Mariners farmhand Brendan Kingman stroked a 1-0 pitch from Matsuzaka to right field to score Roneberg and put Australia ahead.
It was one of the few mistakes from Matsuzaka, who struck out the side in the first inning and struck out 13 in 7 2/3 innings, giving up just five hits. Andrew Utting broke up a no-hitter with a single in the fifth inning.
Australia's win was not without some tense and nervous moments. Oxspring dug himself out of trouble early after giving up a leadoff double to Kazuhiro Wada in the third inning. Following a sacrifice bunt, Oxspring struck out Kosuke Fukudome and put Shinya Miyamoto away on a groundout to first base keeping Japan off the scoreboard.
"It's by far the greatest victory in my career," Oxspring said. "I actually don't know if I can pitch any better. We believed we had a chance to win, and now we have a good chance for the gold."
The outing was almost spoiled in the seventh inning when Australia committed two errors. After recording two outs, Oxspring appeared to be out of the inning when he got Michihiro Ogasawara to pop up to short left field. Battling a strong wind and the sun, shortstop Rodney van Buizen (Dodgers) and incoming left fielder Paul Gonzalez misjudged the popup, allowing the ball to drop and putting Ogasawara on second base. Wada then came up and knocked a grounder that went off Oxspring's glove and to van Buizen. Stumbling on the infield and mishandling the ball, van Buizen still got a throw off from his knees to first base, but it was low and Kingman couldn't handle it.
Williams then came on from the bullpen with runners on the corners and was able to coax Atsushi Fujimoto into a pop out to Williams at third, preserving the win and eventually the game.
Cuba 8, Canada 5
Six outs away from seeing its dreams of Olympic glory fall short, Cuba once again mustered up the magic it has used to dominate international baseball over the past 20 years.
Down 3-2, Cuba rallied with six runs in the eighth inning, then held off a furious Canadian rally for an 8-5 win and a berth in the gold medal game. Cuba, which won golds in 1992 and '96, plays Australia for the gold while Canada plays Japan for the bronze medal.
"I'm very pleased, because there are no stars on this team," Cuba manager Higinio Velez said. "We are young, but we have played very well. I'm very happy we reached the final."
Canada let righthander Chris Begg (Giants) start the eighth inning, even though he gave up three hits while wiggling out of a scoreless seventh in relief of Shawn Hill (Expos). Cuba continued to hit him hard to begin the eighth in its game-winning rally, as veteran shortstop Eduardo Paret singled. Michel Enriquez reached on a fielder's choice as Paret was safe at second on an attempted sacrifice bunt, with third baseman Pete Orr (Braves) charged with an error on the play.
Yulieski Gourriel, Cuba's star young second baseman, followed with an RBI single that tied the game and chased Begg, who was replaced by righthander Chris Mears (Tigers). Mears struck out Osmani Urrutia, but Frederich Cepeda singled to load the bases, and veteran catcher Ariel Pestano delivered the clutch hit, a two-run single to make it 5-3 Cuba.
"I did not do anything different," Pestano said. "I am always good."
Eriel Sanchez followed with another single for a 6-3 lead, and Mears walked Danny Miranda to load the bases. Reliever John Ogiltree (Blue Jays) came on and got a force out at home before Paret followed with a two-out, two-run single for the final runs in the inning. Cuba had six hits in the six-run inning.
Canada rallied in the ninth as ex-big leaguer Ryan Radmanovich led off the frame with a solo homer. Todd Betts (Yankees) then singled off Danny Betancourt, who was replaced by veteran closer Pedro Luis Lazo. Pete Orr (Braves) greeted Lazo with a single, and Canada scored another run after a groundout moved up the runners and a Pestano committed a passed ball.
After Pete LaForest (Devil Rays) walked, Norberto Gonzalez came in to relieve Lazo and faced pinch-hitter Kevin Nicholson (Pirates), who was the tying run at the plate. Nicholson flied out deep to left field, with Cepeda squeezing the final out on the warning track.
Cuba pounced out to a 2-0 lead in the first, but Canada took the lead off lefthander Adiel Palma with a run in the third and two in the fifth on a two-out, two-run single by Adam Stern (Braves). Canada had nine hits and left nine runners on base in the game.
Andrew Kitick, an assistant sports information director at the University of South Carolina, is serving as a media liaison for the International Baseball Federation at the 2004 Olympics and will provide reports from Athens throughout the tournament. Baseball Canada media liaison Matt Charbonneau also is contributing to BA's coverage.