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Olympic Notebook:
Burroughs gets his turn

By John Manuel

September 23

SYDNEY—No matter what team he has been on in his life—from Little League through Double-A Mobile—Sean Burroughs (Padres) has avoided sitting on the bench. In fact, for most teams, the 1998 first-round pick out of Long Beach's Wilson High has played a starring role.

That tends to happen when you inherit some talent from the 1969 No. 1 pick in the draft and 1974 American League MVP. Burroughs' dad Jeff had a solid major league career, and his son Sean seems likely to follow in his footsteps. A California League all-star last year at age 19, Burroughs hit .292-2-41 in the Southern League and was the MVP of the Futures Game this summer. He's considered one of the best hitters in minor league baseball.

But Burroughs had played just once, going 0-for-1 with a sacrifice fly in Team USA's 11-1 victory against South Africa, going into Team USA's game against Cuba on Saturday.

Then, in Team USA's most anticipated game of the round-robin, Burroughs was in the starting lineup, hitting seventh as the Americans loaded up on lefthanded hitters against Cuban righthander Jose Ibar, who mastered them in a 6-1 win.

Burroughs produced two of Team USA's seven hits in his first start. He broke up Ibar's no-hitter with a single with one out in the fifth inning, then doubled and scored Team USA's only run in the ninth off closer Pedro Luis Lazo. He also mishandled two slow rollers to third, with one credited as a hit and another as an error that led to an unearned run in the eighth.

"We wanted to get another lefthanded bat in the lineup," manager Tom Lasorda said of Burroughs' start. "But Mike Kinkade is a great competitor and he'll be back in there."

Burroughs, 20, wasn't fretting over his lack of playing time prior to his start.

"Originally I was just going to be an alternate, but in the exhibitions on the Gold Coast, I showed I could hit and field a little, and I think I opened the coaching staff's eyes a little," said Burroughs, who beat out veteran Mike Coolbaugh (Yankees) for a roster spot. "But Mr. Lasorda and (hitting coach) Reggie Smith told me what my role was going to be. They were up front with me, so I really have no complaints.

"I need to wait in the wings and be ready to pinch-hit and play third if they need me, but the guy in front of me is a big leaguer, so I will wait."

Last year's Pan American Games club had a similar situation, as Twins catcher Matthew LeCroy got just three at-bats as Marcus Jensen emerged as Team USA's home run and RBI leader. Entering the Cuba game this year, Kinkade had hit sixth in every Team USA lineup and was batting just .118 (2-for-17). He also had been inconsistent defensively, making two errors against Japan but playing well in the ensuing games. After Ernie Young (Cardinals), Kinkade is Team USA's best power threat from the right side, and he's a career .330 hitter in the minor leagues.

More telling, late in games Lasorda has gone to a more defensive lineup, inserting Gookie Dawkins (Reds) at shortstop and moving Adam Everett (Astros) from short to third base. Everett, 23, said he hadn't played third base since he was 15, and while Burroughs said it wasn't a problem, he sounded at least a tad upset with the move.

"It's not really a problem, but I led the Southern League in fielding percentage and I know I can play the position," Burroughs said. "When they did that against Japan, they told me they needed to have me available to pinch-hit, and I understood that. Also, Adam is loose after playing the whole game and Gookie is a great shortstop, and I've been sitting on the bench getting cold for two hours and haven't picked up a ball, so that's another reason to do it."

Burroughs, whose parents flew to Australia to watch the Games, still was glad they had made the trip. He's staying fresh, he said, taking plenty of batting practice and grounders should he be needed, and he'll report as scheduled to the Arizona Fall League when the Olympics end.

"I can think of worse places to be than in the Olympics in Sydney, going out in downtown Sydney and having a great time," Burroughs said. "This has been a great experience, and I'm sure my time to play will come."

It did Saturday, and Burroughs was ready for it, even if Team USA wasn't ready for Cuba.

Rolling Cubans

A few notes from Team USA's 6-1 defeat at the hands of Cuba:

• The Ernie Young/Jose Ibar incident got heated after Young was hit in the fourth inning. He didn't say anything, but as he tried to make his way to first base, he found Cuban catcher Ariel Pestano in his way. "I politely shoved him out of the way," was the way Young put it, and Pestano didn't take the shove kindly, rushing at Young. In an instant, Team USA's players were out of the dugout.

They stayed inside when first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (Twins) got involved in one of the game's more tense moments in the fourth. Right fielder Miguel Caldes hit a slow roller down the third-base line that Burroughs couldn't handle cleanly. As Caldes steamed into first base (though there was no throw), Mientkiewicz dropped to all fours and Caldes tripped over him. The Cuban trainer came out to inspect him, and Caldes remained in the game.

Mientkiewicz pointed to the first-base umpire that Caldes was out of the baseline and that if he tripped, it was his fault.

"It's just a different game than the pro game," said Team USA lefthander Rick Krivda (Orioles), the game's losing pitcher. "You can't afford to retaliate or fight and lose one of your players for two or three games in a short tournament like this. We expect we might see Cuba again, and if we do, I'm sure both teams will be out for blood and it will be very intense. These are things you just don't see in pro ball."

• Ibar completely dominated Team USA's lefthanded bats. Brad Wilkerson (Expos) struck out four times, including his three trips against Ibar. John Cotton (Rockies), Mike Neill (Mariners) and Burroughs each struck out twice. Burroughs and Mientkiewicz had the only hits by lefty hitters in their 15 plate appearances against the Cuban starter.

"I throw the same to lefthanded and righthanded hitters," Ibar said. "The only difference is which side of the plate they stand on."

• Mientkiewicz told reporters in the mixed zone that he thought Cuba was stealing signs against Krivda. Lasorda said he didn't think that was the case.

• Cuba scored six runs even though the top four hitters in the lineup went a combined 2-for-15.

• Everett's slump continued. He remains hitless in 17 at-bats, though his defense has been superb.

Olympic Flames

Burroughs said second baseman Brent Abernathy (Devil Rays) won $128,000 Australian (roughly $70,400 U.S. by the current exchange rate) in one hand of poker during Team USA's exhibition sessions in Australia's Gold Coast. The team was staying at the Jupiter Casino, the island nation's oldest casino. "I was right there next to him," Burroughs said. "He got a royal straight flush. I was upset it wasn't me at first, but I was happy for him. He was going to buy a car when he got back to the States, but now he might upgrade." . . . While Abernathy won't be needing it, USA Baseball executive director/CEO Paul Seiler said Team USA's players get $15,000 for winning the gold medal, $10,000 for the silver, $7,500 for bronze and $5,000 for a fourth-place finish. The same bonus scale is in place for all U.S. Olympians. Seiler added that Team USA's player pay varies from man to man and from organization to organization for the Olympics. The players won't receive big league service time . . . With the crowded field as the round-robin closes, here's the order of tiebreakers: head-to-head competition, fewest runs allowed, fewest earned runs allowed, highest batting average and, finally, a coin flip.

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