Monday, September 04, 2006

U.S., Cuba Qualify For the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Baseball America

By J.J. Cooper

September 4, 2006

Team USA is back in the Olympics.

With an 11-5 rout of Panama Sunday, the U.S. (7-1 overall, 5-1 in the current standings) earned one of the two available spots for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Cuba (8-0 overall, 6-0 in the current standings), wrapped up the other berth on Saturday with a 4-0 shutout of Mexico.

By qualifying, Team USA caps off what has been an impressive year for USA Baseball. The National team won the FISU World University Games in Cuba, and the Youth National Team won the Youth Pan Am Championships in Venezuela. The Junior National Team will be competing in the Junior World Championships in Cuba later this month.

But the most important accomplishment for the U.S. was to get back into the Olympics, after failing to qualify for the 2004 Olympics. In the 2003 Americas Qualifier, the U.S. lost to Mexico 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

In 2003, the qualifier seemed designed to encourage the underdog, with a schedule format that meant that one mistimed loss could send a team home. This year's Americas Qualifier was set up to encourage consistency. The U.S. lost a game, just like it did in the 2003 qualifier, but this time, with a tournament based on overall record, the U.S. was easily able to shrug that off.

On Sunday, Michael Bourn provided a two-run triple to get the scoring started for the U.S., which never trailed Bobby Hill (3-for-4, two runs scored) and Brandon Wood (2-for-3, three runs scored) led the way, while Billy Butler (2-for-5, 2 RBIs) and Bryan LaHair (1-for-4, 2 RBIs) provided some big hits as well.

The U.S. pitching staff pieced together enough effective innings to shut down Panama. Former big leaguer Orlando Miller was 3-for-5 with three RBIs, but the rest of the Panamanian lineup was largely kept in check by starter Greg Smith (3.1 IP, 2 ER) and relievers Nic Ungs (3.2 IP, 3 ER), Lee Gronkiewicz (1 IP, 0 ER) and Jeff Farnsworth (1 IP, 0 ER).

The U.S. had today off, before facing Cuba on Tuesday in the final game of the tournament. Cuba has dominated the competition in this tournament, winning all eight games by a combined scored of 87-11.

In the other game on Sunday, Canada defeated the Dominican Republic 13-1. Nicaragua vs. Venezuela was rained out and will be played Monday on what had been scheduled to be a rest day.

Currently, Mexico is third in the standings, while Canada is fourth. The third and fourth-place finishers at the qualifier advance to a second-chance tournament next year to compete for one spot in the Olympics. The second chance tournament was installed for the first time for the 2008 Olympics.

The 2008 Olympics is the last time that baseball is on the Olympic schedule, as the International Olympics Committee removed if from the 2012 schedule.

Americas Qualifier Standings #

Team, W, L, PCT
*Cuba, 6, 0, 1.000
*USA, 5, 1, .833
Mexico, 4, 2, .666
Canada 3, 3, .500
Venezuela, 2, 3, .400
Panama, 2, 4, .333
Nicaragua, 1, 4, .200
Dominican Republic, 0, 6, .000

*Qualified for 2008 Olympics

# Standings for the second round only include games against teams still remaining in the tournament.

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