Venezuela Deals Team USA First Loss

See also: Team USA picks up another win

Team USA scored nine runs and its pitchers registered 15 strikeouts Tuesday, but that wasn't enough to avoid the team's first defeat in the 2006 Olympic qualifier.

Venezuela and Team USA traded late rallies, with the Venezuelans coming up with three runs in the 11th for a 12-9 victory. Team USA (4-1) still finished in first place in Pool B, albeit in a tie with Mexico, and advances to the four-game second round of the qualifying tournament.

Team USA's second-round schedule begins Friday with a game against the Dominican Republic (2-3), which finished in fourth in Pool A. The U.S. plays Nicaragua (3-2) Saturday, then faces what is likely to be its most pivotal game, against Panama (4-1) on Sunday. Top seeds U.S. and Cuba play Sept. 5 in the final game of the tournament.

The teams with the two best records qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The top two teams that don't qualify will have a chance to earn a "wild-card" spot to Beijing at a yet-to-be scheduled second-chance tournament in 2007.

Team USA failed to hold a pair of three-run leads as its bullpen gave up eight runs in the last four innings. Starter Kevin Slowey (Twins) gave up five runs in five innings before the bullpen gave it up.

Venezuela trailed 8-5 in the ninth after a solo homer by Team USA's Kurt Suzuki (Athletics), but relievers Lee Gronkiewicz (Blue Jays) and Henry Owens (Mets) coughed up the lead for the Americans in the ninth. Gronkiewicz started the inning by yielding one of three walks in the frame, and a single and a double plated four runs. Down 9-8, though, the Americans rallied to tie the score on a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth by first baseman Bryan LaHair (Mariners).

Big league veteran Mike Bascik (Diamondbacks), 11-0 this season at Triple-A Tucson, got his first defeat of the year when he forced in the go-ahead run by hitting Venezuelan DH Rene Reyes (a former Rockies farmhand) with a pitch with the bases loaded. Catcher Rene Pinto (independent Northern League) then smacked a two-run double to make it 12-9.

Second baseman Bobby Hill (Padres) led Team USA with four hits, while Suzuki had three, including his solo homer. Outfielder Skip Schumaker (Cardinals) continued his torrid tournament with a two-run triple. However, shortstop Brandon Wood (Angels) continued to struggle, falling to 1-for-21 for the event after going 0-for-5.

Venezuela's victory, coupled with Mexico's 8-7 victory against Puerto Rico, advanced Venezuela to the second round while eliminating Puerto Rico (1-4) from the event.

Other Games

Nicaragua defeated the Dominican Republic 6-4 in Pool A play, but both teams advanced to the second round as Panama handled Colombia 11-3. Cuba remained the event's lone undefeated team with a 15-1 victory against Ecuador.

Canada (3-2) defeated Brazil 7-3 in its final game of pool play to improve to 3-2. Righthander Chris Begg (Giants) pitched seven innings to lead Canada, giving up five hits and one run while striking out seven. Canada plays Panama and Cuba in its first two games of the second round before playing Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

The Mexico-Puerto Rico game at Esatdio Latinamericano was interrupted when officials with Cuba's Public Health Ministry chose that time to fumigate the ballpark with mosquito repellant. The nation has an ongoing campaign against dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus, and smoke from the pesticide workers were using sent players scurrying onto the field in the sixth inning. Puerto Rico was winning 6-1 at the time, but after the half-hour toxic cloud of pesticide delay, Mexico rallied for an 8-7 victory.

"It's incredible something like this could happen in the middle of a matchup," Puerto Rico manager Jose Carradero told the Associated Press.