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Team USA 4, Japan 2

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Rauch fans 13 as Team USA routs South Africa

By John Manuel

Jon Rauch
Photo: Larry Goren

BLACKTOWN, New South Wales, Australia—Jon Rauch couldn't match Cuba, which had three pitchers combine to no-hit South Africa in Sunday's Olympic opener. And after one-half inning, Rauch and Team USA trailed the South Africans, who were playing their second Olympic baseball game ever, 1-0.

But as Baseball America's 2000 Minor League Player of the Year steadied himself, Team USA's offense produced the expected rout after all. DH John Cotton (Rockies) tied a Team USA Olympic record with five RBIs, and left fielder Mike Neill (Mariners) hit his second home run of the tournament as the Americans took an 11-1 win Monday night at Blacktown Ballpark, about 20 miles northwest of Sydney's Olympic Park. The game ended after the top of the seventh due to the international 10-run mercy rule. Team USA moved to 2-0, while South Africa fell to 0-2.

Rauch (White Sox) gave up two hits and a run in that first inning, and a single to the leadoff man in the second. From that point on, he made one mistake, hitting a batter with a pitch. He finished with 13 strikeouts, fanning seven of eight batters in the fifth and sixth innings. One of the strikeout victims reached first base after catcher Pat Borders (Devil Rays) couldn't find the breaking ball in the dirt.

Rauch fell one short of the Team USA Olympic record for strikeouts, set in 1992 by lefthander B.J. Wallace. But after that first inning, he wasn't thinking records. He was thinking win.

"I was still a little shaky in the second inning," Rauch said. "I was relying a little too much on my fastball, and I was a little excited. I had to settle down and focus and get back to what I do best, which is throw strikes. It took me a while to settle down and get in a rhythm with Borders, but once I did that I threw well."

Rauch didn't walk a batter and ended up giving up three hits.

South Africa's first-inning lead was short-lived, as Team USA scored a pair of runs in the bottom half. Brad Wilkerson (Expos) tripled with one out on a fly ball to right that should have been caught, the first of several South African fly-ball adventures. One out later, Ernie Young (Cardinals) walked, and Cotton drove a 3-2 pitch just inside the first-base line for a two-run double.

South African starter Liall Mauritz was hurt by his own wildness and poor defense as Team USA stretched its lead. The Americans turned four hits, a hit batsman, an error and a wild pitch into five runs in the second. Cotton had the inning's big hit, a two-run single. It came after South African center fielder Jason Cook dropped Neill's routine fly ball, which should have been the third out.

Neill, the hero of Sunday's 4-2 win against Japan, hit his second crucial homer of the tournament. While not as dramatic, his solo shot in the bottom of the sixth gave Team USA the 10-run cushion it needed to end the game early.

Cotton got his fifth RBI of the game in the fourth with a bases-loaded groundout, pushing him to the RBIs record. His five is the most for Team USA since baseball became a medal sport. Outfielder Oddibe McDowell had five in a game in 1984, when baseball was still a demonstration sport.

Most players don't like to talk about individual records, but for Cotton, his Olympic spot and accomplishments—he tripled and scored Team USA's first run against Japan—are worth talking about.

"The record really does mean everything," said Cotton, who has jockeyed back and forth with Devil Rays farmhand Jim Buccheri in 2000 as the minor leaguer with the most appearances without having played in the major leagues. "Hopefully, the Olympics will fast-forward my career. I'm getting a chance to show teams in the U.S. and overseas that I can play this game, and hopefully help us win a gold medal, too."

Team USA plays its second and final game at Blacktown on Tuesday when it takes on The Netherlands, managed by Arizona State coach Pat Murphy. The Dutch, who are 1-1 in the tournament after an upset 6-4 win against Australia and a 9-2 loss Monday against Japan, were the only team to beat Team USA during its exhibition schedule, defeating Rauch 4-3. Manager Tom Lasorda indicated righthander Kurt Ainsworth (Giants), a 1999 first-round pick, was likely to start for the United States.

"It's important that we are off to a 2-0 start, but every night is important," Cotton said. "That's what's different about this tournament. The Netherlands beat us in the exhibition, so we know that's going to be a tough game, but we have to win every one here to win a gold medal."

South Africa 1 (0-2)                 USA 11 (2-0)

                  AB  R  H RBI                         AB  R  H RBI

Bell ss            3  0  0  0        Abernathy 2b       2  1  1  1 
Alfino, C. lf      3  0  0  0        Everett ph/ss      1  0  0  0 
Holness rf         3  1  1  0        Wilkerson cf/rf    3  3  2  0 
Dempsey 1b         3  0  1  1        Neill lf           3  3  1  1 
Cook cf            3  0  0  0        E. Young rf        1  2  1  1 
Kemp c             3  0  1  0        Sanders cf         1  0  0  0 
Adonis dh          3  0  0  0        Cotton dh          4  0  2  5 
Alfino, F. 3b      2  0  0  0        Kinkade 3b         2  0  0  0 
Johnson 2b         2  0  0  0        Burroughs 3b       1  0  0  1 
Mauritz p          0  0  0  0        Mientkiewicz 1b    3  1  1  0 
Dove p             0  0  0  0        Borders c          3  0  1  0 
                                     Dawkins ss/2b      2  1  0  0 
                                     Rauch p            0  0  0  0 

Totals......      25  1  3  1        Totals......      26 11  9  9 

Score by innings:                   R  H  E
South Africa          100 000 0  -  1  3  1
USA                   250 301    - 11  9  1

E - Cook, Neill. LOB - South Africa 4, USA 4. 2B - Abernathy(1), Cotton(1),
Borders(1). 3B - Wilkerson(1). HR - Neill(2). SH - Abernathy, Burroughs. 
SB - Abernathy(1), Wilkerson(1), Mientkiewicz(1). K - Bell 2, Alfino, C. 2, 
Holness 2, Dempsey, Cook 2, Adonis, Alfino, F. 2, Johnson, Neill, Sanders, 
Cotton, Kinkade, Dawkins. BB - Wilkerson, Neill, E. Young 2.

                       IP  H  R ER BB SO  WP BK HP IBB  AB BF Fly Gnd

Mauritz L 0-1         3.0  7 10  7  3  3   2  0  1  0   16 21   2  4
Dove                  3.0  2  1  1  1  2   0  0  0  0   10 12   5  2

Rauch W 1-0           7.0  3  1  0  0 13   1  0  1  0   25 26   3  6

WP - Mauritz 2, Rauch. HBP - by Mauritz (Dawkins), by Rauch (Alfino, F.). 

Mauritz faced 3 batters in the 4th.

Umpires - Home:Rouse  1st:Leone  2nd:Koyama  3rd:Hsieh  
Start: 6:30 pm   Time: 2:01   Attendance: 3,474

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