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Mientkiewicz slams Korea

By John Manuel

SYDNEY—Doug Mientkiewicz just needed one swing. No foul liners or off-balance misses. Just one, short, quick, graceful swing, with the follow-through only a sweet lefthanded stroke can produce.

With one swat at a 3-2 fastball, Mientkiewicz broke open a tense game between Team USA and Korea Wednesday night at Homebush Baseball Stadium. With the bases loaded in the eighth inning, Mientkiewicz crushed a Jin Pil-Jung fastball deep into the Sydney night to give the Americans a 4-0 win, leaving them as the only undefeated baseball team in the Olympics.

"We've had some difficulty with the different pitching we've faced, but we're finding ways to score," Mientkiewicz said. "We've had different guys come through."

Mientkiewicz, who spent all of 1999 in the majors with Minnesota and all of this year in Triple-A, took his turn against the stubborn Koreans, who fell to 1-3 in the tournament. It was the sixth pitch of his game-winning at-bat, but Mientkiewicz' first swing. He had the hottest American bat on the night, getting two of Team USA's six hits off Korean submariner Chong Tae-Hyon. But when Chong came out of the game in the eighth, Team USA pounced.

With one out, left fielder Mike Neill (Mariners) singled to right against losing pitcher Song Jin-Woo. Song walked Ernie Young (Cardinals) and departed in favor of Jin, who showed a 93-mph fastball. Jin struck out pinch-hitter Anthony Sanders (Mariners), but walked third baseman Mike Kinkade (Orioles) on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases, setting the stage for Mientkiewicz.

"The pitch I hit was the first hittable pitch he threw me," Mientkiewicz said. "I'm not big on swinging early in the count in that situation. He's the one in trouble, not me. He can't walk in the winning run, so I was just telling myself to concentrate and don't chase a bad pitch. I played with it a little, moved up (in the batter's box), then back, then up.

"On strike two I was questioning the call, I was kind of in shock. I thought to myself, 'Well, if I'm a pitcher, I'm coming right back in there.' "

Jin did, and Mientkiewicz drilled the pitch into almost the same place that Neill hit his game-winning homer in Sunday's 13-inning victory against Japan.

"I'm at second base so I had a perfect angle for the pitch," Young said. "Doug was seeing the ball really clearly, because he laid off some tough pitches to hit. I knew the way he was seeing it, he was going to have a productive at-bat. He hit a fastball. The guy had to challenge him 3-2."

The Americans' knack for winning close games has been predicated on getting excellent pitching and great defense, and the Korea win was no exception.

Righthander Roy Oswalt (Astros) didn't dominate as past Team USA starters have, but he still threw seven shutout innings. Oswalt scattered eight hits and walked two, striking out six while throwing 100 pitches. Four relievers combined to hand out three walks in the last two innings, with righthander Ryan Franklin (Mariners) getting his second win of the tournament by striking out Kim Dong-Joo, Korea's power-hitting third baseman, to end the eighth.

Oswalt was helped primarily by the left side of his defense. Shortstop Adam Everett (Astros) handled five chances flawlessly, none of them routine plays. In the seventh, he made a pair of splendid diving plays to his left to short-circuit a Korean rally. And in the eighth, Neill got a good jump on Kim Ki-Tai's liner to deep left and made the catch at the wall, saving a double.

But the play of the night belonged to Kinkade, who made a crucial error that prolonged the Japan game. Against Korea, he more than atoned. Oswalt loaded the bases in the sixth on two walks and a single by Kim Dong-Joo. With an 0-2 count, Korean shortstop Park Jin-Man lashed a one-hopper to Kinkade's right. He stepped, dived and stopped the ball, tagged third and threw to first for the inning-ending double play.

"If Kinkade doesn't make that play, we lose," said Mientkiewicz, who pumped his fist as he squeezed Kinkade's throw. "I don't get my chance to shine."

But he did, and Team USA now stands alone at 4-0. One more victory almost certainly will clinch a spot in the four-team medal round.

The Americans have a day off Thursday—Young said the team was headed for the beach with an NBC television crew in tow—before resuming play Friday against Italy as the newly minted gold-medal favorite. The loss by Cuba earlier in the day to the Netherlands was on the minds of fans and media, but not Team USA.

"I'm worried to death about the Italians," U.S. manager Tom Lasorda deadpanned after the game. Then he turned serious, adding, "The Cuba game showed anything can happen in this tournament. I told our players if you take anyone for granted, they can knock you on your rear end."

That has yet to happen to Team USA. And in the 2000 Olympics, no other team can make that claim.


Korea 0 (1-3)                        USA 4 (4-0)
                  AB  R  H BI                          AB  R  H BI
Lee, BK lf         5  0  2  0        Abernathy 2b       4  0  1  0 
Park, JH 2b        5  0  1  0        Wilkerson cf       4  0  1  0 
Park, Jae rf       3  0  0  0        Neill lf           4  1  1  0 
Kim, KT 1b         4  0  0  0        E. Young rf        3  1  1  0 
Lee dh             2  0  0  0        Cotton dh          3  0  0  0 
Jang pr            0  0  0  0        Sanders ph         1  0  0  0 
Kim, HS 3b         2  0  0  0        Kinkade 3b         3  1  0  0 
Kim, DJ 3b         2  0  1  0        Mientkiewicz 1b    4  1  3  4 
Park, JM ss        3  0  1  0        Borders c          4  0  1  0 
Hong c             4  0  1  0        Everett ss         3  0  0  0 
Jung cf            2  0  1  0        Oswalt p           0  0  0  0 
Chong p            0  0  0  0        George p           0  0  0  0 
Song p             0  0  0  0        Franklin p         0  0  0  0 
Jin p              0  0  0  0        T. Young p         0  0  0  0 
                                     Williams p         0  0  0  0 

Totals......      32  0  7  0        Totals......      33  4  8  4 

Score by innings:                      R  H  E
----------------------------------------------
Korea                 000 000 000   -  0  7  2
USA                   000 000 04    -  4  8  0
----------------------------------------------

E - Kim, KT, Chong. DP - USA 1. LOB - Korea 11, USA 7. 2B - Abernathy(3).
HR - Mientkiewicz(1). SH - Jung. SB - Wilkerson, E. Young. K - Lee, BK 2, 
Park, JH, Park, Jae 2, Kim, KT, Lee, Kim, HS, Kim, DJ, Neill, E. Young, 
Sanders, Kinkade, Everett 2. BB - Park, Jae, Lee, Park, JM, Jung, E. Young, 
Kinkade.

                       IP  H  R ER BB SO  WP BK HP IBB  AB BF Fly Gnd
Chong                 7.0  6  0  0  0  5   0  0  0  0   28 28   6  9
Song L 0-1            0.1  1  2  2  1  0   0  0  0  0    2  3   0  1
Jin                   0.2  1  2  2  1  1   0  0  0  0    3  4   0  1

Oswalt                7.0  7  0  0  2  6   0  0  0  1   26 29   4 10
George                0.2  0  0  0  0  1   0  0  1  0    2  3   1  0
Franklin W 2-0        0.1  0  0  0  0  1   0  0  0  0    1  1   0  0
T. Young              0.0  0  0  0  1  0   0  0  0  0    0  1   0  0
Williams              1.0  0  0  0  1  1   0  0  0  0    3  4   1  1

HBP - by George (Lee). 

Umpires - Home:Koyama  1st:Hsieh  2nd:Bellrose  3rd:Poulton  
Start: 7:30 pm   Time:   Attendance: 13818

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