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Ainsworth keeps streak alive for Team USA

By John Manuel

Kurt Ainsworth
Kurt Ainsworth
Photo: Larry Goren

BLACKTOWN, New South Wales, Australia—Three games. Three wins. Three gems for Team USA's starting pitchers.

Righthander Kurt Ainsworth (Giants), starting what he called the most important game of his life, lived up to the task despite not having his best stuff. Thanks to a power display that included three doubles and two home runs, Team USA gave Ainsworth plenty of support, easing past the Netherlands 6-2 Tuesday night at Blacktown Ballpark.

With the win, Team USA moved to 3-0 to tie Cuba for the best record in the Olympic tournament. After trailing 4-0 after five innings, Cuba rallied to beat Korea 6-5 Tuesday at Homebush Baseball Stadium. Team USA plays Korea (1-2) on Wednesday at Homebush Baseball Stadium with righthander Roy Oswalt (Astros) on the mound, then gets a day off on Thursday.

Oswalt will have a high standard to match after Ainsworth's start, the third dominating effort by Team USA's talented staff. Righthander Ben Sheets (Brewers) threw seven shutout innings against Japan on Sunday, and righthander John Rauch (White Sox) struck out 13 in an 11-1 win against South Africa a day later. Ainsworth wasn't dominant, but he was plenty good, giving up one run and five hits in 6 2/3 innings against the Netherlands (1-2). He walked two and struck out three, including the last batter he faced before being lifted after having thrown 88 pitches.

"That's not a problem because Tim Young needs some work, and it's good for him to come in and face a lefthander because that's going to be his role," Ainsworth said. "I don't know if I'll hear about this from the other starters, but I'll be the one hardest on myself. I could have pitched better."

He did all right with what he had. Ainsworth said the Netherlands' hitters were sitting on his curveball, which is usually his strikeout pitch. So starting with about the third inning, Ainsworth went almost exclusively to his 92-93 mph fastball, moving it in and out of the strike zone. He estimated he threw his fastball on more than 80 percent of his pitches.

Ainsworth gave up his only run in the first, when the Dutch loaded the bases with no outs on two singles and a walk. But Ainsworth got a pair of ground balls, one for a force play, the other a 4-6-3 double play, to escape further damage. He retired 18 of the last 22 batters he faced.

Dutch starter Rob Cordemans, a former Indian River (Fla.) Junior College star and the owner of both Olympic victories in the Netherlands' history, showed an 85-87 mph fastball. He mostly attacked Team USA with offspeed breaking balls and changeups.

The Americans jumped on him from the start as Brent Abernathy (Devil Rays) doubled to lead off the game. Brad Wilkerson (Expos) put runners at the corners with a bunt single, and one out later both runners came home on a double to left by Ernie Young (Cardinals). Young, who would be playing for Memphis in the Triple-A World Series if he weren't Team USA's cleanup hitter, added a solo homer in the third and singled and scored in the eighth to key Team USA's attack.

"I hit a fastball away for the home run and didn't try to do too much with it, just hit it where it was pitched," said Young, whose blast went out to straightaway right field. "After a couple of innings, he was throwing his changeup a lot more. We had to stay back because he got a lot of guys off balance.

"We beat a good team. They beat us in the exhibition round, so it was important that we came back and won this one. We can't look past any team. We have to win every game, and it doesn't matter who we play."

It does matter who plays well for Team USA, which is getting the proverbial different hero every night. While Mike Neill (Mariners), who was announced at the plate Tuesday as the tournament's leading home run hitter (he has two), went 0-for-4, Young had his best game to date, and Wilkerson went 2-for-5 with a solo homer in the sixth. First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (Twins) also had his best game, driving in a pair of runs with a double and a sacrifice fly. Abernathy added two hits and continued to form a formidable defensive combination with shortstop Adam Everett (Astros).

"This was the best we've played as a team," Young said. "We put everything together today, with power, timely hits and error-free baseball. That's important. Now we just have to keep doing it."


USA 6 (3-0)                          The Netherlands 2 (1-2)
                  AB  R  H BI                         AB  R  H  BI
Abernathy 2b       4  1  2  0        Faneyte cf         4  1  1  0 
Wilkerson cf       5  2  2  1        Milliard 2b        4  0  1  0 
Neill lf           4  0  0  0        Adriana dh         3  1  1  1 
E. Young rf        4  2  3  3        Muelens lf         4  0  2  1 
Cotton dh          1  1  0  0        Isenia, P. 1b      4  0  0  0 
Kinkade 3b         3  0  0  0        Eenhoorn ss        4  0  0  0 
Dawkins ss         0  0  0  0        Balentina c        3  0  0  0 
Mientkiewicz 1b    2  0  1  2        Brauckmiller ph    1  0  0  0 
Jensen c           4  0  0  0        van t'Klooster rf  2  0  2  0 
Everett ss/3b      3  0  0  0        t'Hoen 3b          3  0  1  0 
Ainsworth p        0  0  0  0        Maduro ph          1  0  0  0 
T. Young p         0  0  0  0        Cordemans p        0  0  0  0 
Heams p            0  0  0  0        Jongejan p         0  0  0  0 
Williams p         0  0  0  0        Jansen p           0  0  0  0 

Totals......      30  6  8  6        Totals......      33  2  8  2 

Score by innings:                      R  H  E
----------------------------------------------
USA                   201 001 110   -  6  8  0
The Netherlands       100 000 010   -  2  8  0
----------------------------------------------

DP - USA 2, Holland 1. LOB - USA 5, Holland 7. 2B - Abernathy(2), E.
Young(1), Mientkiewicz(1). 3B - van t'Klooster. HR - Wilkerson(1), E.
Young(1), Adriana. SH - Mientkiewicz. K - Wilkerson 2, Neill 2, Kinkade 
2, Milliard, Balentina, t'Hoen 2. BB - Abernathy, Cotton 2, Kinkade, 
Mientkiewicz, Everett, Adriana, van t'Klooster 2.

                       IP  H  R ER BB SO  WP BK HP IBB  AB BF Fly Gnd
Ainsworth W 1-0       6.2  5  1  1  2  3   0  0  0  0   23 25   3 12
T. Young              0.1  0  0  0  1  1   0  0  0  0    1  2   0  0
Heams                 1.0  2  1  1  0  0   0  0  0  0    5  5   3  0
Williams              1.0  1  0  0  0  0   0  0  0  0    4  4   0  3

Cordemans L 0-1       6.1  6  4  4  4  5   1  0  0  0   24 28   9  4
Jongejan              0.2  2  2  2  0  0   0  0  1  0    3  4   0  1
Jansen                2.0  0  0  0  2  1   1  0  0  0    3  6   2  1

WP - Cordemans, Jansen. HBP - by Jongejan (Cotton). PB - Jensen. 

Umpires - Home:Leone  1st:Koyama  2nd:Begg  3rd:McCabe  
Start: 6:30 pm   Time: 2:42   Attendance: 3,352

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