The unexpected happened in the Olympic softball final on Monday. That's right, Australia scored a run! Pity the USA made five...
I watched the final live on SBS from about the 3rd innings onward. Team USA got on top very quickly and left the Aussies playing a forlorn game of catchup. Chrystl Bustos whacked a huge two-run homer in the top of the first, and before the inning was over, Lisa Fernandez scrambled home on a Melissa Carpadios error.
Unusually in this tournament, Fernandez, who was starting pitcher in the game, does not use a designated hitter.
The bottom of the third saw Bustos tonk another one high over the fence, before Stacey Nuveman did the same off Tanya Harding's last pitch of the tournament. Top of the sixth, and Sandra Allen scored a run off a Stacey Porter RBI. Fernandez became the only US pitcher to concede a run in the 2004 Olympics.
At 5-1 down, the Aussies folded meekly in the 7th, but the silver medal is their best Olympic performance to date. Indeed in three Olympic softball competitions, Australia won bronze at Atlanta and Sydney adding their silver here.
All credit to the Americans, scoring 51 runs to 1 in their nine games in the tournament, a team batting average of .416 and ERA of 0.13. But you have to wonder, looking at some of their players, whether they should introduce weight divisions into international softball. Team USA could play in the superheavyweights, I swear! Chrystl Bustos, at 170cm and 99kg, would be right at home in the front row of a rugby pack. Nuveman, at 182cm and 104kg, packs quite a wallop too, and then there's pitcher Lori Halligan (182cm, 99kg). Of all the other teams only Italian catcher Natalie Anter weighed more than 90 kilos.
Lisa Fernandez top the tournament batting averages with .545 (12 for 22). Bustos was, fittingly, the top slugger at .923 (24 for 26). She also topped the home run chart (5), RBIs (10) and runs scored (9). Of pitchers who played an average of more than 2.5 innings per game, Fernandez had the best ERA (0.29) and the best win/loss record (4-0), while Lauren Bay of Canada had the most strikeouts (36).
And this begs the question... where was Jennie Finch in the final? Answer: in the US dugout, cheering on her teammates, wearing lots of makeup, looking blonde and gorgeous. Her stats: against Italy, 3.0 innings, 1 base on balls, 5 strikeouts, and the win. Against Canada, 5.0 innings, 1 base hit, 8 strikeouts, and the win. That's a total of eight innings pitched in the entire competition. By contrast, Lisa Fernandez pitched 24.0 innings, and Sarah Farnworth of Greece pitched 38.
Here is the play by play of the gold medal game. Japan, by the way, took bronze.
For a sample of reportage of the game, see the Sydney Morning Herald, NBCOlympics.com and the New York Times. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation website carried an Agence France-Presse report. Many American outlets focussed on the recent death of coach Mike Candrea's wife Sue, but Eric Adelson of ESPN.com did one of the best.
Soon-to-retire NBC newsreader Tom Brokaw did a profile on Finch for the Nightly News on Monday (video clip on site). Canada's CBC has done a Newsmaker Profile on Lisa Fernandez. There's also a video profile on the Fairfax Digital website of Australia's Stacey Porter, the first indigenous player to represent Australia in olympic softball. This, incidentally, is Stacey's profile page at the University of Hawai'i Athletics website. Trust the Honolulu Star-Bulletin to come up with a local angle on the game.
Footnote: Jennie Finch is engaged to Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Casey Daigle.