Team USA Trounces Dominicans At Qualifier

See also: U.S. Loses For First Time At Qualifier

Team USA took another step toward clinching a spot in the 2008 Olympics with a 12-2 win over the Dominican Republic in their first game of the second round of the Olympic qualifier.

Once again, the U.S. bats were too much for international pitching. Skip Schmaker (a Cardinals farmhand), Brian Lahair (Mariners) and Mark Reynolds (Diamondbacks) all homered, while Heath Phillips (White Sox) allowed only one run in seven innings for his second win of the tournament.

Just as importantly for the U.S., Jeremy Ware's pinch hit grand slam
in the bottom of the ninth inning gave Team Canada a 15-12 win over Panama. Panama (2-2) had been part of a three-way tie with the U.S. for second place in the tournament. The top two teams earn spots in the 2008 Olympics.

The U.S. is averaging more than nine runs a game during the tournament. It took Team USA a little while to get going on Friday, as Mike Kinkade's (Marlins) two-run single in the third gave Team USA a 2-0 lead. After the Dominicans cut the lead to 2-1 in the fourth, Reynolds and Schumaker blew the game open in the fifth. Reynolds hit a solo shot, while Schumaker hit a grand slam to give the U.S. a commanding 7-1 lead.

The U.S. ended the game in the eighth, as a homer by LaHair helped the U.S. put together another five-run inning, forcing the game to be called because of international baseball's mercy rule.

Phillips was masterful for the second time in the tournament. He allowed only three hits and one walk while striking out four in seven innings of work. Phillips had allowed only one run in beating Canada in the U.S.' tournament opener.

Ware's grand slam was one of several key moments in Canada's comeback win over Panama. The Canadians scored 11 runs in the final two innings to comeback from a 9-4 deficit to win.

Kevin Nicholson and pinch-hitter Reed Eastley both homered in the eighth as Canada rallied to tie the game 9-9--Eastley's home run came after manager Terry Puhl decided to pinch hit him for catcher David Corrente, who was 4-for-4 at the time.

Canada's closer T.J. Burton quickly gave that lead up in the top of the ninth, as Panama's Sherman Obando singled, the next three batters walked, and Adolfo Rivera singled in two more to give Panama a 12-9 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.

But the Cardiac Canucks, as Team Canada is now calling its club, rallied for six more runs in the ninth. Stubby Clapp scored on a wild pitch, and Emerson Frostad singled in Nicholson to cut the lead to 12-11. At that point, Puhl made another move. Instead of letting Eastley, the hero of the eighth inning, bat, he pinch hit for him with Ware, who promptly smashed a grand slam to end the game.

In other action on Friday, Mexico beat Nicaragua 2-0 and Cuba beat Venezuela 10-1. The U.S. will face Nicaragua today in its second game of the final round. Team USA will face Panama on Sunday, and Cuba on Tuesday.

Final Round Standings
(Top two teams qualify for 2008 Olympics)
Dominican Republic04.000
* U.S. holds tiebreaker advantage over Mexico on basis of head-to-head record
# Standings for the second round only include games against teams still remaining in the tournament.