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Baseball: Living through another Cuba

Cuba's Olympic baseball team celebratesCuba has won the gold medal for Olympic baseball. That's three gold and one silver in the four Games since baseball was introduced in Barcelona 1992. They did so by defeating Australia 6-2 in the final on Wednesday night. It was Australia's first medal in olympic baseball competition.

It was a final, however, where the War on Error reared its ugly head. In the fourth inning, with Cuba leading 2-0, Australia's Thomas Brice hit a fly ball to deep centrefield. Carlos Tabares gloved the ball, it bounced a few inches onto the fence and back into his glove. He claimed the catch (see this photo from the TV footage), and the umpires gave him out. But it looked fairly obvious on the replays that it was a rebound off the wall. Australian manager Jon Deeble complained and was ejected.

Australia had men on first and second base at the time, and would certainly have gotten one, and maybe two, runs from the hit if the catch had been disallowed. reported the controversy. Alex Brown reported the game for the Sydney Morning Herald, and he also wrote about the career prospects of the silver medallists after the Games.

Adelante of Camaguey, Cuba report the game in Spanish.

More reports on Australia's finest hour in honkbal history, and for that matter another damn fine moment in Cuba's history at juegos de pelota: New York Times, Miami Herald, CBC and Baseball America. And then there's the Associated Press story about how the major league players in the US are paying no attention to the Athens ball games.
In Spanish: El Nuevo Herald (Miami), Univision,

Here is the play-by-play of the final, and the box scores.

Earlier in the day, Japan thwacked Canada 11-2. Stubby Clapp went 0 for 3.

Here is the ONS wrap of the final day of competition:

Men : Cuba is golden; silver and bronze for Australia and Japan

ATHENS, 25 August - Cuba tonight won an unprecedented third Olympic Baseball gold medal by defeating Australia in the final game of the ATHENS Olympic Baseball tournament. Japan won the bronze when it beat Canada.


Frederich CEPEDA's two-run home run paced a 13-hit attack as Cuba defeated surprise finalist Australia 6-2 to capture its third Olympic gold medal in the last four Olympics.

Cuba's Adiel PALMA (3-0) allowed four hits, one run, three walks and struck out five to earn his tournament leading third victory.

For the first three innings, starting pitchers Norge Luis VERA (CUB) and John STEPHENS (AUS) kept the both offences at bay.

With one-out in the fourth innings, three-time Cuban League batting champion, Osmani URRUTIA (CUB), hit a ground ball up the middle that shortstop Rodney VAN BUIZEN threw wide of first base. The error was costly, as left fielder CEPEDA slammed the two-run shot over the right field wall to give the current world champions a 2-0 lead.

A controversial catch in the bottom of the fourth extinguished a serious Australian threat.

With two outs and two runners on base, rightfielder Thomas BRICE (AUS) launched a long flyball beyond streaking centrefielder Carlos TABARES (CUB). TABARES gloved it, but before he could complete the catch, the ball popped out again, hit the wall and fell back into his glove before he tumbled to the ground.

Strong protestations by Australian manager Jon DEEBLE proved fruitless, and the out remained.

Australia got on the board in the next inning when lead off batter Paul GONZALEZ (AUS) hit a solo home run that chased starter VERA out of the game.

In the sixth inning, Cuba's 'Big Red Machine' broke open the game with a five-hit, four-run inning keyed by tournament RBI leader Ariel PESTANO's two run single and Eduardo PARET's two out, two run double up the third base line.

Australia tacked on a run in the eighth inning, but Cuban manager Higinio VELEZ used his bullpen depth to repeatedly douse the Australian threats.

PALMA combined with three other pitchers to pick up the victory. Danny BETANCOURT (CUB), the winner in yesterday's semifinal, got the save in one inning of relief.

The gold medal was a slice of redemption for a young Cuban team that had to settle for silver in the 2000 Games four years ago when it lost to the USA. Only four members of Cuba's 2000 Games silver medal winning team returned to Athens. The Caribbean island nation has advanced to every gold medal game since 1992, winning three.

Australia won it's first Olympic Baseball medal after finishing seventh in the 2000 Games.


In the bronze medal game, Japanese catcher Kenji JOJIMA knocked in four runs as Japan defeated Canada 11-2 for its second Olympic medal in Baseball.

JOJIMA jump started the Japanese offense with a two run homer that landed right in front of the scoreboard in left centre field in the first inning.

Canadian pitcher Mike JOHNSON (CAN) kept the Japanese bats silent the next inning but the floodgates opened in the top of the third.

Kosuke FUKUDOME (JPN) led off with a walk and was moved to second base after Shinya MIYAMOTO (JPN) bunted for a base hit. Yoshinobu TAKAHASHI (JPN) then executed a flawless small ball by bunting the two other runners over. This brought up the red hot JOJIMA who was intentionally walked to load the bases in order to set up the double play.

The strategy did not work as Kazuhiro WADA (JPN) hit a single to shallow right field to score FUKUDOME. JOHNSON was taken out in favour of Eric CYR (CAN) who got the next out but walked Norihiro NAKAMURA (JPN) with the bases still loaded to score a run.

The next batter, Takuya KIMURA (JPN) was fooled by a CYR offering and checked his swing. The ball ended up hitting the sweet part of the bat and made it through the middle of the infield to score two runners and put Japan up 6-0.

Japan scored another run in the fourth inning to add to its lead.

Canada mounted a challenge in the fourth and fifth innings, getting one run when Andy STEWART (CAN) drove in Danny KLASSEN (CAN) with a fielder's choice and another thanks to a home run by Jeremy WARE (CAN) to cut the lead to 7-2.

Japan tacked on four runs in the eighth to pull away and cruise to the bronze medal.

Japanese pitchers Tsuyoshi WADA, Hiroki KURODA and Masahide KOBAYASHI combined to hold Canada to five hits while striking out eleven batters.

Canadian manager Ernie WHITT used six pitchers in the game, all of which let in runs with the exception of John OGILTREE (CAN) who pitched to one batter and got him to fly out.

Japan won the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, while Canada was appearing in its first Olympic Baseball competition.

ONS dr/mp

Statistical leaders for the tournament: Ariel Pestano batted .514 (18 for 35) for Cuba, slugged .743 and hit 14 RBIs. Four players hit three home runs, none of them Cuban: Yurrendel de Caster (Netherlands), Brett Roneberg (Australia), Kosuke Fukudome (Japan) and Yoshinobu Takahashi (Japan). Fukudome (no you don't pronounce it that way) scored 11 runs. Peng Cheng-Min of Taiwan stole 3 bases.

Among the pitchers, Chris Oxspring of Australia and Hiroki Koruda of Japan both had ERAs of 0.00. Adiel Palma of Cuba had 3 wins. Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan made 20 strikeouts.

And let's remember...the USA didn't qualify. And they are going to struggle to do well in future Olympics, as MLB commissioner Bud Selig has made it clear that he doesn't want the major league season disturbed for players to compete in Olympic games. It's because of America that there is a question mark over baseball's participation in Beijing 2008. Certainly the fact that women's baseball is so sparse internationally is an inhibiting factor.

Only five teams competed in the inaugural Women's Baseball World Cup, which concluded in Edmonton on August 8. (USA won, of course.) Eight countries competed in the fourth annual Women's World Series in Uozu City. Can you believe that India sent a team? Can you believe that South Korea lost to Japan 53-0? No, softball is the proxy female baseball and will remain while Team USA runs rampant and hotties like Jennie Finch grab all the attention.