USA Reaches Medal Round At World Cup




In international baseball, Cuba remains king. Cuba’s only significant losses in medal-round play since professionals were allowed into international baseball came in two Intercontinental Cups (1997 vs. Japan, 1999 at Australia) and in the 2000 Olympics, courtesy of Ben Sheets and Team USA.

In the 2005 World Cup in the Netherlands, with much less at stake, Team USA once again has a chance to strike a blow against Cuba’s domination of international competition. The Americans sewed up a spot in the medal round with a 7-3 victory against the winless Czech Republic. Team USA (6-2) finished pool play Tuesday with a 5-4 victory against Taiwan, but Taiwan’s 11-4 loss to Nicaragua on Monday already had eliminated Taiwan from the medal round and clinched Team USA as the No. 4 seed in Pool B.

So manager Davey Johnson’s Team USA will play Pool A’s top seed, Cuba (8-0), in Wednesday’s quarterfinal opener. Team USA’s starter likely will be righthander Brian Bannister (Mets), who last pitched Friday against Nicaragua in a 14-2 loss.

American professionals have faced Cuba only once since Sheets’ shutout in Sydney—in 2001, when Cuba beat Team USA in the World Cup title game in Taiwan. Team USA was managed by current Red Sox manager Terry Francona and had a roster that included current big leaguers such as Chris Capuano, Carl Crawford and Orlando Hudson, as well as current Team USA players Jason Phillips and Jeff Deardorff. USA Baseball’s college national team also has lost to Cuba in the World University Games in 2002 (Cuba beat Tigers prospect Kyle Sleeth) and in the Pan American Games in 2003 (beating Jered Weaver).

Team USA will join Japan (7-1), Nicaragua (6-2) and Puerto Rico (6-2) in the medal round from Pool B. Cuba, the Netherlands (7-1), Panama (6-2) and Korea (5-3) will represent Pool A.

To clinch the spot, Team USA first had to get past the Czechs, who replaced Greece at the last minute and haven’t been particularly competitive in joining South Africa as the tournament’s lone winless teams. That’s one reason Team USA won despite pitchers Jared Wells (Padres) and Mark Freed (Diamondbacks) issuing a combined 10 walks. They gave up just five hits combined as Wells went five innings and Freed went four for the save. Wells improved to 2-0, 1.64 in a pair of starts, the best ERA on the roster.

Team USA didn’t homer in this game but got a pair of doubles from shortstop Ben Zobrist (Astros), who also drove in two runs; outfielder Jeff Deardorff (Devil Rays) also had two RBIs. DH Josh Phelps (Devil Rays) had two hits as the U.S. banged out 10 hits against five Czech pitchers. Radek Prochazka got the loss.

Against Taiwan, Team USA got a ninth-inning, tiebreaking RBI single by Lastings Milledge (Mets) that knocked in Brian Peterson (Reds), who had doubled to lead off the inning. Lefthander Gilbert de la Vera (Royals), a 2005 signee as a draft-and-follow out of Pima (Ariz.) Community College, got the save by inducing a game-ending double play with runners on first and second and one out.

The U.S. came back from a 1-0 deficit with four in the sixth, keyed by back-to-back doubles by Mike Cervenak (Giants) and Dee Brown (Nationals), a pair of errors and a Bryan LaHair (Mariners) RBI single.

Taiwan, which scored all of its runs on three home runs, tied the game with a two-run shot in the sixth off starter Chris Michalak (Diamondbacks) and a solo shot in the seventh off Greg Bauer (Phillies).

Elsewhere in the World Cup:

• With its medal hopes on the line, Taiwan sent lefthander Chi Hung Cheng (Blue Jays) to the mound against Nicaragua, and he didn’t get an out. Nicaragua had five hits and five runs in the first to chase Cheng on its way to an 11-4 victory.

• Rockies righthander Shane Lindsay, who dominated the short-season Northwest League this season, struck out nine in five innings of a 5-1 Australia win against Colombia.

• First baseman Joey Votto (Reds) finished up a fine tournament with his fifth home run of the event in Canada’s 12-4 romp against Brazil.

• Righthander Ivan Maldonado (Mets) struck out seven in six innings to lead Puerto Rico to a 7-4 victory against Spain. Former big leaguer Edwards Guzman had a pair of RBIs for the Puerto Ricans while outfielder Jesus Feliciano (Nationals) continued to excel with a pair of hits and three RBIs.

• Rockies righthander Ramon Ramirez, traded by the Yankees in the Shawn Chacon trade, struck out 10 in a complete game 5-1 victory against winless South Africa.

• We have inaccurately reported the medal round as “one and done.” Teams that lose in the quarterfinals cannot win the championship, but the World Cup format this year does have loser’s bracket games to determine the third- through eighth-place order.

STANDINGS

Pool A


W

L

Cuba

8

0

Netherlands

7

1

Panama

6

2

Korea

5

3

Canada

4

4

China

3

5

Brazil

2

6

Sweden

1

7

South Africa

0

8

Pool B

Japan

7

1

Nicaragua

6

2

Puerto Rico

6

2

United States

6

2

Australia

4

4

Taiwan

3

5

Colombia

2

6

Spain

2

6

Czech Republic

0

8

MEDAL ROUND SCHEDULE

Wednesday, Sept. 14: Quarterfinals
Cuba vs. United States
Japan vs. Korea
Nicaragua vs. Panama
Netherlands vs. Puerto Rico

Friday, Sept. 16: Semifinals
Cuba/U.S. winner vs. Nicaragua/Panama winner
Japan/Korea winner vs. Netherlands/Puerto Rico winner

Finals: Saturday, Sept. 17