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Team USA 4, Japan 2
Team USA 11, South Africa 1
Team USA 6, The Netherlands 2
Team USA 4, Korea 0
Team USA 4, Italy 2
Cuba 6, Team USA 1

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Team USA finishes preliminary round on high note

By John Manuel

Kurt Ainsworth
Kurt Ainsworth
Photo: Larry Goren

SYDNEY—For an Australian team that started with such high hopes, Sunday's finale of the Olympics baseball tournament was too fitting.

An enthusiastic, flag-waving crowd of 14,018 was on hand at Homebush Baseball Stadium, just waiting for the opportunity to be won over. A prime enemy, Team USA, was on hand for the finale, and former big leaguer Mark Hutton was on the mound for the home team.

But as with the rest of the Olympic tournament, everything went wrong for Australia. Team USA jumped out to a big early lead, knocking out Hutton. A rain delay of 34 minutes helped drown the crowd's early enthusiasm and American runs in the sixth and seventh innings sealed a 12-1 victory in a mercy-rule game that ended after seven innings.

Team USA finished the preliminary round at 6-1, tied with Cuba, and will have the second seed in the medal round. It will play third-seeded Korea Tuesday night at Homebush. Cuba, the top seed, plays fourth-seeded Japan Tuesday afternoon. The winners play Wednesday night for the gold medal, while the losers play meet that for the bronze.

"I was hopeful we would be 7-0, but I did expect us to be able to be 6-1 after seeing this team in the exhibitions," Team USA manager Tom Lasorda said. "I felt good about our ballclub, and I feel good about it now. I think our chances are good. If we play like we're capable of, we'll see what the results are."

There will be no medal round for the host nation. The mercy-rule defeat summed up the whole tournament for Australia, which had lofty goals after winning the 1999 Intercontinental Cup here last November. But the Australians finished seventh with a 2-5 record, thanks to crushing losses to European representatives the Netherlands (6-2 in the Aussies' Olympic opener) and Italy (8-7 in 12 innings Saturday).

"It's pretty disappointing," Australian left fielder Clayton Byrne said. "The whole club never got it going as a whole, just never put it together. We thought we had legitimate hopes of going further in the tournament, but that's not going to happen now. We didn't hit, we didn't pitch and we didn't field. It's simple."

Team USA, rebounding from a smarting loss to Cuba on Saturday, did all of those things against the Aussies. Righthander Kurt Ainsworth (Giants), spotted to an early lead, pitched five solid innings, giving up just one run and needing fewer than 70 pitches to do it. And after getting just 13 hits in the last two games, Team USA's offense busted out with 14 hits against four Aussie righthanders.

Three of the hits came in a four-run second, and five more came in the fourth. Catcher Marcus Jensen (Twins), 3-for-4 with three RBI, made it a mercy-rule game with a solo homer in the sixth, the Americans' sixth homer of the tournament.

"We needed this game," said American first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (Twins), who had a single and RBI in three plate appearances. "Our emotions had dropped a little after last night, and tonight we got our intensity back. We focused right in and got Kurt some runs and got off to a good start, which we haven't been doing enough. We had a more businesslike attitude tonight, and that's what we need for the final two games."

Every Team USA player either had a hit or scored a run. Second baseman Brent Abernathy (Devil Rays) had two doubles, tying a Team USA record shared by five others and giving him five in the tournament, breaking the U.S. Olympic record set by big leaguers Mark Kotsay and Travis Lee in 1996. Abernathy went 4-for-5 with three RBIs on the day, the four hits tying a U.S. Olympic record shared by Lee, Jacque Jones (1996) and Will Clark (1984).

Center fielder Anthony Sanders (Mariners) scored three runs and had an RBI in his first start of the tournament, and helped Abernathy provide flawless defense up the middle. And struggling third baseman Mike Kinkade (Orioles) had his best game, going 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs.

"We gave Kinkade a day off and he came back strong," Lasorda said. "Sanders has a lot of talent. We put Ernie Young (Cardinals) at DH so we could be able to play Sanders in the outfield, where as you can see he's outstanding defensively. That's maybe a combination we like very much."

Lasorda tinkered with the lineup elsewhere, sitting DH John Cotton (Rockies) for the first time and starting Gookie Dawkins (Reds) at shortstop ahead of Adam Everett (Astros). Dawkins' 0-for-3 effort meant Team USA shortstops, while playing excellent defense, are 0-for-23 in the tournament with three walks and seven strikeouts.

Still, batting coach Reggie Smith said he was encouraged with the way his charges had come back from an offensive slump against soft tossers from Korea and Italy and Cuba's hard-throwing Jose Ibar, who dominated them in a 6-1 defeat on Saturday.

"We were more relaxed tonight, and we went out and hit like we did in the exhibitions," Smith said. "The last few games, we've had some struggles, but the team made some adjustments. We were a little tight against Cuba, because we wanted to be 7-0, and we were also new to that situation. After that game, I just wanted the guys to relax and give them information, because there's not much else I can do."

Smith said Team USA should have plenty of information on Korea, which indicated it would start submariner Tae-Hyon Chong in Tuesday's semifinal. Team USA is expected to start righthander Roy Oswalt (Astros) against Korea in a rematch of Wednesday's 4-0 American victory, with righthander Ben Sheets (Brewers) starting the medal game. Lasorda indicated the rest of the staff will be available for duty in both games.

"I think when we play the way we're capable of, there's no team in this tournament that can beat us," Abernathy said. "It's up to us to play up to our capability."

Team USA will have to do so to win a gold medal. As Lasorda is fond of reminding the media, he didn't come 10,000 miles to lose.

USA 12 (6-1)                         Australia 1 (2-5)
                  AB  R  H RBI                         AB  R  H RBI
Abernathy 2b       5  0  4  3        Reeves rf          3  0  0  0 
Wilkerson rf       5  0  1  0        Snelling cf        3  0  0  0 
Neill lf           3  2  1  0        Nilsson dh         2  1  1  0 
E. Young dh        2  1  0  1        Johnson ph/dh      1  0  1  0 
Mientkiewicz 1b    2  2  1  1        Byrne lf           3  0  1  0 
Burroughs 3b       2  0  1  0        Gonzalez 3b        2  0  0  1 
Kinkade 3b/1b      5  1  2  2        Van Buizen ph/3b   1  0  1  0 
Sanders cf         3  3  1  1        Moyle c            3  0  0  0 
Jensen c           4  2  3  3        Roneberg 1b        3  0  1  0 
Dawkins ss         3  1  0  0        Williams 2b        3  0  0  0 
Ainsworth p        0  0  0  0        Buckley ss         3  0  2  0 
George p           0  0  0  0        Hutton p           0  0  0  0 
                                     White p/c          0  0  0  0 
                                     Ettles p           0  0  0  0 
                                     Meagher p          0  0  0  0 

Totals......      34 12 14 11        Totals......      27  1  7  1 

Score by innings:                   R  H  E
USA                   041 501 1  - 12 14  0
Australia             000 100 0  -  1  7  2

E - Reeves, Ettles. DP - USA 1, Australia 2. LOB - USA 10, Australia 5. 2B
- Abernathy 2(5), Kinkade(1), Nilsson, Johnson. HR - Jensen(1). SB -
Mientkiewicz, Sanders. Strikeouts - Wilkerson 2, E. Young, Kinkade, Sanders 
2, Dawkins, Reeves, Byrne 2, Moyle. Walks - Neill 2, E. Young 2, Mientkiewicz,
Sanders, Dawkins. 

                       IP  H  R ER BB SO  WP BK HP IBB  AB BF Fly Gnd
Ainsworth W 2-0       5.0  5  1  1  0  3   0  0  0  0   19 19   7  4
George                2.0  2  0  0  0  1   0  0  0  0    8  8   4  1

Hutton L 0-1          2.0  5  4  4  4  0   0  0  0  0   10 14   3  2
White                 1.0  5  5  5  1  1   1  0  1  0    8 10   2  0
Ettles                3.0  2  2  2  1  3   1  0  1  0   11 13   3  2
Meagher               1.0  2  1  1  1  3   0  0  0  0    5  6   0  0

WP - White, Ettles. HBP - by White (Sanders), by Ettles (E. Young). 

Umpires - Home:Bellerose  1st:Contreras  2nd:Leone  3rd:Rey  
Attendance: 14,018

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