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Olympic Notebook:
Krivda gets call against Cuba

By John Manuel

September 22

Rick Krivda
Rick Krivda
Photo: Stan Denny

SYDNEY—The stage has been set. Team USA, the Olympics' only undefeated baseball team at 5-0, against archrival Cuba (4-1) in the most anticipated game of the round-robin. It happens Saturday at Homebush Baseball Stadium, and it will be Team USA's toughest test, Japan's Daisuke Matsuzaka notwithstanding.

Naturally, Rick Krivda will step into the spotlight, taking the mound for the Americans.

Huh? Rick Krivda? The journeyman Orioles lefthander who has spent part of six seasons with Triple-A Rochester, the same Krivda who has a 5.57 career ERA in 258 big league innings?

Yes, barring a last-second change of heart, that's the guy. While Cuba hasn't announced a starter for the game, which will be broadcast in its entirety on MSNBC (though on a tape-delayed basis), it's certain he won't have big league experience and Team USA figures Krivda gives them the advantage.

"We wanted to go with a lefthander against Cuba, and Krivda is the most experienced and has good offspeed stuff," said U.S. pitching coach Phil Regan, who managed Krivda when he came up as a rookie with the Orioles in 1995. "I think Rick will do a good job."

Regan's participation with Team USA was a strong reason why Krivda decided to sign up for service with Team USA. The former Oriole, Red, Indian and Royal knows he has drawn a choice assignment, and credits Regan for the opportunity.

"I don't know if they picked me because of experience," Krivda said. "Maybe it's because maybe we're in the middle of the tournament, an important game, but we started with our young guys and have them rested for the medal round, then I can be a swing guy and setup man.

"I know Phil stuck up for me to make this team, and I appreciate that. I want to pitch well for him. It's been a while since I played for him, but I want to show him he made a good choice and do a good job."

Krivda, who went 11-9, 3.12 at Rochester this season, doesn't fit the mold of the rest of the U.S. staff of hard throwers, but that's probably a good thing. Cuba knocked around Brad Penny (Marlins) twice last year in the Pan American Games and is considered a good fastball-hitting team. However, in Team USA's 10-5 win over Cuba in Winnipeg, Dan Wheeler (Devil Rays) pitched 5 1/3 strong innings of relief using mostly fastballs and sliders.

"They're a team that tries to intimidate you, and I have big league experience, so that's going to be harder for them to do than maybe for a young guy," Krivda said. "It's going to be a hostile environment, so I think they wanted more experience. Plus our scouting reports say Cuba is not a great breaking ball-hitting team, so hopefully that will play to my role.

"I'm definitely not in the same mold as some of these other guys. We have some good arms that light the radar gun up. But they're also very mature. Take my roommate, Chris George (Royals). He's really level-headed, an absolutely great guy, and they all are. There's no egos with those guys."

Cuban left fielder Luis Ulacia says it doesn't matter whom Team USA uses on the mound, and it doesn't even matter if the United States is his team's next opponent. Whether that's true is debatable, but Ulacia stressed the latter point after Cuba's 1-0 win against Australia on Friday.

"We play the same way no matter who the opponent is," Ulacia said. "Tomorrow is another game like any other. We will play hard and try to win, but it doesn't matter who pitches. A team has nine players, not one."

There's no word on the Cuban starter, but Cuba has used three of its top arms in the last two games. Wednesday against the Netherlands, Cuba started righthander Norge Vera and relieved for 5 2/3 innings with righthander Maels Rodriguez. Righty Jose Contreras, who dominated Team USA last year in the Pan Am Games, pitched Friday and beat Australia 1-0. Righthander Jose Ibar, a former 20-game winner in Cuba's Serie Nacional, is the most likely choice.

Cuba's pool of possible starters also includes 35-year-old lefthander Omar Ajete, their only lefty; 37-year-old righty Lazaro Valle; and righty Pedro Luis Lazo, who has mostly closed in international competition. Ajete beat Team USA in the 1992 Olympics, relieving current Yankees star Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and pitching 8 2/3 innings, giving up one unearned run. Lazo saved a 10-8 victory over the United States at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Team USA and Cuba split their two meetings in Winnipeg last summer. The United States won 10-5 in the round-robin, roughing up Rodriguez with five runs in the ninth inning to break a tie. It was Team USA's first win against Cuba in a major international competition since 1987, when Ty Griffin's ninth-inning homer won a round-robin contest. In the gold-medal showdown last year, Contreras took the mound on one day's rest and struck out 13 to beat Team USA 5-1.

In Olympic competition, Team USA is 0-3 against Cuba. In 1992, Cuba beat Rangers ace Rick Helling twice, 9-6 in the round-robin behind Ajete and 6-1 in the semifinals behind Osvaldo Fernandez, now with the Reds.

In Atlanta, Cuba took a 10-8 decision in the round-robin, getting two homers from third baseman Omar Linares and one each from Miguel Caldes and Ulacia. Blue Jays closer Billy Koch started and lost the contest despite being backed by five homers, two from Pirates second baseman Warren Morris.

Strong Ending For Anderson

Australian lefthander Craig Anderson didn't have the greatest year in 2000 until the Olympics came around. He wasn't even on Australia's first proposed Olympic team, but got added in late August when the host nation lost six pitchers to injuries and major league promotions.

"I thought it was a good bet coming into the year that I wouldn't be on the team," Anderson, at 19 the youngest player on the squad. "But then as the year went on and I saw guys like Cameron Cairncross and Luke Prokopec get called up and other guys got hurt, and I figured that gave me a pretty good chance. I wanted to make the most of it and prove that I should have been on the team in the first place."

So far he has. Anderson pitched 4 1/3 innings of shutout, one-hit relief in Australia's 5-3 win against Korea, the host country's only quality win of the tournament. Anderson relieved again Friday with Cuba leading Australia 1-0. The Cubans put runners at first and third against former big league righthander Shayne Bennett (Expos) with two out in the eighth, and had righthanded hitting star third baseman Omar Linares coming to the plate.

The scouting report on the Cubans says to use offspeed lefties, so in came Anderson. He threw four changeups, the last one a high-and-outside 73-mph pitch that Linares swung at and missed for a crucial strikeout.

"No doubt that's a crucial strikeout for us," Australia catcher David Nilsson said. "That's a pressure situation for Craig, but he's been good in tough situations for us. Age is not a factor with Craig. He's a collected youngster."

"I knew he had some pop," Anderson said, "so I wasn't about to give him a fastball. But I pitch just about the same way to anybody. I had no idea how that last pitch got where it went, but it worked."

Coming off a 10-win season in his pro debut in the short-season Northwest League in 1999, Anderson seemed primed to establish himself as one of the Mariners' top prospects this summer with Class A Wisconsin. The numbers say he did all right. He went 11-8, 3.71 in 158 innings, walking just 40 and striking out 131. But he said the Olympics have been the highlight for him.

"I was kind of disappointed with my year, to be honest," said Anderson, who was 9-3 at one point but won just two of his last 11 starts. "I think I can throw better than I did in the second half of the year, but I know they're finishing up the organization reports at this time of year, and this has to help."

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