Mientkiewicz beats Korea again
By John Manuel
SYDNEYAfter his game-winning grand slam against Korea in the Olympics last Wednesday, Doug Mientkiewicz U.S. teammates gave him a hard time for not celebrating hard enough. He got another chance Tuesday to make up for it.
Once again facing Korea, with much higher stakes in the Olympic semifinal, Mientkiewicz stepped to the plate in a game-winning situation. This time, he delivered a towering solo home run to right field in the bottom of the ninth, and he high-stepped his way around the bases to conclude Team USAs 3-2 victory.
Mientkiewicz homer ended a surreal game that featured a number of controversies and a two-hour rain delay with the winning run 90 feet away in the bottom of the eighth. The victory, Team USAs fourth in its last at-bat in eight Olympic games, pushed Team USA (7-1) into the gold-medal game against Cuba at 7:30 p.m. local time (4:30 a.m. Eastern) Wednesday. Korea (4-4) has to come back just more than 12 hours after its defeat to face Japan at 12:30 local time for the bronze medal.
"Its a little better home run than last time because of the stakes," said Mientkiewicz, a first baseman in the Twins system. "All I wanted to do was get on base, get a win and go home so I could get out of these wet clothes.
"I hit a changeup. This park plays huge, and Ive said before, if its not hit down the lines, its not getting out of here. Ive been lucky enough to twice get it down the line."
The United States hasnt won the gold medal since baseball became a medal sport in 1992, finishing fourth that year and third in 1996. Cuba won the championship in both Barcelona and Atlanta, and hadnt lost an Olympic game until the Netherlands pulled an upset last week.
This will be the first time that the always highly anticipated U.S.-Cuba matchup is for Olympic gold. The Cubans have won 25 of the 28 games between the teams in major international competition. Team USA will pitch ace righthander Ben Sheets (Brewers), while Cuba is expected to counter with righthander Jose Ibar, who beat the United States 6-1 on Saturday.
"We didnt show Cuba our best game the last time," Mientkiewicz said of Team USAs 6-1 loss on Saturday. "We wanted Cuba to win today. To be the best youve got to beat the best, and until we do, were still second fiddle."
At the beginning of his dramatic at-bat, Mientkiewicz was trying to bunt. Mike Kinkade (Orioles) led off ninth inning when submariner Seok-Jin Park hit him with a pitch. Gookie Dawkins (Reds) came in to pinch-run but got picked off by Park on with the count 2-1. After manager Tom Lasorda and first-base coach Reggie Smith argued vehemently, Park settled in to face Mientkiewicz again and gave up the game-winner.
"Before his at-bat, Doug and I had a talk, and he said, Skip, Ill do whatever it takes for us to win the game, " Lasorda said. "Hes never thought about his individual accomplishments, just of the team and winning."
The home run ended by far the strangest night of the Olympic baseball tournament. Team USA blew a couple of chances to score before Mientkiewicz heroics with poor baserunning, first from Dawkins and one inning earlier by second baseman Brent Abernathy (Devil Rays).
The bottom of the eighth was one of the longest and most tense in Team USA history. Facing Park, Abernathy led off with a double to left field, a soft liner off the end of his bat that just landed fair. Center fielder Brad Wilkerson (Expos) failed on two bunt attempts, but he hit a soft grounder to first that moved Abernathy to third with one out.
All the while, the rain fell with more and more intensity. As left fielder Mike Neill (Mariners) stepped to the plate, the scene got bizarre. Just before the first pitch, Korea catcher Sung-Heon Hong stood and asked for time. Home plate umpire Cesar Valdes of Cuba called time while Park was in the midst of throwing a pitch. Neill hit a weak tapper back to the mound, but Valdes waved it off, much to Hongs hopping-mad dismay.
After that disputed pitch, lightning struck beyond the left-field wall. First-base umpire Paul Begg of Australia jogged down the line, asking Valdes to delay the game. But Valdes waved him off and signaled for the game to continue, bringing a roar from the crowd.
To everyones dismay, though, the count ran to 2-1 before Valdes couldnt take it anymore. After wiping rainwater off his face, Valdes called for a delay, which lasted exactly two hours.
When play resumed, Neill was given an intentional walk, and Park hit right fielder Ernie Young (Cardinals) with a 2-2 pitch. That brought up DH John Cotton (Rockies), who hit a 1-1 pitch weakly to third baseman Dong-Joo Kim. Kim fielded the ball cleanly and threw home for the forceout on Abernathy.
Abernathy went out of the baseline and bulldozed Hong on the play. Valdes called him out for interference, ending the U.S. threat.
"Thats the way I was taught to play," Abernathy said. "If I had the same situation, I probably would do the same thing again."
Added Lasorda: "Ive never seen that play called like that before in my life, ever. But theres an old saying, if you stay around long enough, youll see everything once, and I saw plenty tonight."
The game began under ominous weather and a foreboding forecast that called for more rain as the evening progressed. A steady drizzle drifted through the cool evening air through the first six innings, in stark contrast to the warm, spring-like weather Sydney has enjoyed for much of these Olympics.
The conditions got a little eerier as the game closely mirrored the first U.S.-Korea matchup, won 4-0 by the Americans on Mientkiewicz eighth-inning slam. Righthanders Roy Oswalt (Astros) and Tae-Hyon Chong, who opposed each other in the first contest, generally held as much sway over the early going as the weather.
Oswalt deserved a better fate than another no-decision. He pitched six innings, striking out four and walking one while giving up three hits (one a bunt single) and two runs.
His lone walk came in the third, against left fielder Sung-Ho Jang to lead off the inning. Shortstop Jin-Man Park, hitting just .130 entering the game, squared to bunt on the first pitch, then pulled back on the second pitch and lined a double to left field. Jang scored on a sacrifice fly by center fielder Soo-Keun Jung, and Park scored on a double by right fielder Byung-Kyu Lee. Oswalt got out of further trouble by striking out second baseman Jong-Ho Park and retiring first baseman Seung-Yuop Lee on a long fly to right that just missed getting out for a home run.
Team USA finally answered in the fourth off Chong, who had held them scoreless for 10 innings over two outings. Wilkerson doubled to right field and moved to third on Neills grounder. After Young struck out, Cotton broke out of an 0-for-14 slump with a first-pitch double to the gap in left-center field, scoring Wilkerson.
Chong seemed to still be in control in the seventh, when Kinkade laid down a bunt and was safe at first when Seung-Yuop Lee didnt keep his foot on the bag. Korean manager Euong-Yong Kim decided 98 pitches were enough for Chong and went to lefthander Jin-Woo Song to face Mientkiewicz. He fouled off one 1-2 pitch, then grounded the next one into right field for a single, and Kinkade just beat the throw to reach third base. He scored on a sacrifice fly to center by catcher Marcus Jensen (Twins).
Korea (4-4) Team USA (7-1) AB R H BI AB R H BI Lee, BK rf 4 0 1 1 Abernathy 2b 4 0 1 0 Park, JH 2b 4 0 0 0 Wilkerson cf 3 1 1 0 Lee, SY 1b 4 0 0 0 Neill lf 3 0 0 0 Kim, DJ 3b 4 0 0 0 E. Young rf 3 0 0 0 Kim, KT dh 3 0 0 0 Cotton dh 4 0 1 1 Hong c 3 0 0 0 Kinkade 3b 2 1 1 0 Jang lf 2 1 0 0 Dawkins pr 0 0 0 0 Park, JM ss 3 1 1 0 Mientkiewicz 1b 3 1 2 1 Jung cf 2 0 1 1 Jensen c 2 0 0 1 Chong p 0 0 0 0 Everett ss 3 0 0 0 Song p 0 0 0 0 Oswalt p 0 0 0 0 Park, SJ p 0 0 0 0 Franklin p 0 0 0 0 Williams p 0 0 0 0 Totals...... 29 2 3 2 Totals...... 27 3 6 3 Score by innings: R H E ---------------------------------------------- Korea 002 000 000 - 2 3 0 USA 000 100 101 - 3 6 1 ---------------------------------------------- One out when the game ended. E - Kinkade. LOB - Korea 2, USA 6. 2B - Lee, BK, Park, JM, Abernathy(6), Wilkerson(1), Cotton(2). HR - Mientkiewicz(2). SH - Jung, Jensen. SB - Jung. CS - Lee, BK, Wilkerson. K - Park, JH 2, Lee, SY 2, Kim, DJ, Jang 2, Park, JM, Neill, E. Young 2, Cotton, Jensen, Everett. BB - Jang, Neill, Kinkade, Mientkiewicz. IP H R ER BB SO WP BK HP IBB AB BF Fly Gnd Chong 6.1 3 2 2 2 6 0 0 1 0 21 24 4 8 Song 0.1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 1 0 Park, SJ L 0-1 1.2 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 2 1 5 8 0 3 Oswalt 6.0 3 2 2 1 4 0 0 0 0 20 22 10 3 Franklin 2.0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 6 6 1 3 Williams W 1-0 1.0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 3 3 1 0 HBP - by Chong (Wilkerson), by Park, SJ (E. Young), by Park, SJ (Kinkade). Umpires - Home:Valdes 1st:Begg 2nd:Bodaan 3rd:Castillo Attendance: 14,002
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