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Sunday, September 24
Rauch whiffs 13 in seven innings for U.S.

SYDNEY, Australia -- The tallest player in professional baseball had little trouble with Olympic baseball's puniest offense.

Jon Rauch
Jon Rauch's bid for an Olympic record was cut short by the 10-run rule.

Six-foot-11 Jon Rauch struck out 13 in seven innings and John Cotton drove in five runs Monday as the unbeaten United States rolled to an 11-1 victory over winless South Africa.

The 10-run mercy rule kicked in after South Africa batted in the seventh, pre-empting the seventh-inning stretch and more strikeouts by Rauch, a third-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox last year.

His total was the second-highest by a U.S. pitcher in the Olympics, trailing B.J. Wallace's 14 against Italy in Barcelona in 1992.

"He's huge and very intimidating," said South Africa reliever Ashley Dove, who stopped to get manager Tom Lasorda's autograph on a baseball after the game. "He throws in the mid-90s, which is something we're not used to. In time, we'll get used to it."

Rauch towered over a team that couldn't even get a hit in its Olympic baseball debut. The South Africans managed only one baserunner -- on an error -- in a 16-0 drubbing by the Cubans a day earlier.

They scored this time, getting to Rauch in the first for a brief lead that pumped up the bench. Rauch then settled down and the United States ground them down.

"It's outstanding," Rauch said, his eyes widening. "I'm thrilled. I'm on cloud nine."

Rauch, a right-hander, accentuates his height by hiking his pants legs to just below the knees and overpowers hitters with a fastball that tops 90 mph. He got all those strikeouts -- including four in the fifth inning, when a batter missed a wild pitch in the dirt and made it safely to first -- even though his fastball was a little slow by his standards.

"I've seen him throw the ball in the bullpen around 97 mph," Lasorda said. "I think tonight he was throwing around 93 or 94 mph.

"In a couple of years, this guy's going to be a hell of a pitcher."

Cotton had a two-run double, two-run single and run-scoring groundout.

A day after their pulsating, 13-inning win over Japan in their opener at the main Olympic baseball stadium, the Americans (2-0) hit the road for a more relaxed atmosphere and much easier time. The main ballpark is comparable to the best in Triple-A, plopped in the heart of the main Olympic venue, a short distance from the torch. By contrast, the Americans played Game 2 at the secondary stadium carved on the edge of an Aboriginal heritage land on the outskirts of the city, much closer to the bush than the bay. Snakes have been cited outside the bleachered stadium, and a sign outside cautions: "Magpie Breeding Area, Birds May Swoop."

There was no swooping, though one magpie wandered into the outfield briefly between innings.

The ballpark probably reminded the Americans of their days in rookie ball and spring training. The caliber of play matched the setting.

The United States set up South Africa's first-ever Olympic run with an error. Ian Holness lined a single to left -- South Africa's first, drawing a collective "Yea!" from the dugout -- and continued to second when Mike Neill bobbled the ball. The South Africans spilled out of the dugout, whooping with arms raised in celebration after Nick Dempsey -- the biggest player on the team at 6-foot-8 and 238 pounds -- singled to center for a run.

The lead evaporated as soon as the United States started batting. Cotton had a two-run double in the bottom of the inning and the Americans took control with five more runs in a second inning extended by misplays.

The low point came when starter Liall Mauritz threw a run-scoring wild pitch that sailed over the mitt of the leaping catcher and thumped the backstop. Mauritz gave an embarrassed smile when the catcher came out to chat about it.

Neill, whose two-run homer ended the longest game in Olympic baseball history on Sunday, hit a solo homer in the sixth for the 10-run margin.

The game was delayed briefly in the top of the fifth when a reporter tumbled backward while stretching for a foul ball behind home plate, twisting his knee and gashing his face. He was treated in the stands and hobbled out with assistance.


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