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Tuesday, September 19
U.S.'s 112-game winning streak snapped

BLACKTOWN, Australia -- Oh, Doctor!

Dot Richardson committed two errors in the top of the 11th inning as Japan beat the United States 2-1 Tuesday to snap the defending Olympic champions' 112-game winning streak.

Christie Ambrosi, Emi Naito
Christie Ambrosi, left, of the U.S. dives back to first safely below the tag of Japan's Emi Naito.

"I apologized to everyone because I feel responsible," said Richardson, who is an orthopedic surgeon when not playing second base for the U.S. team. "The two mistakes I made cost us the game."

While a setback, the defeat doesn't diminish the team's gold medal hopes. The top four in the eight-team tournament advance to the medal round and the United States is still favored.

The United States (2-1) loaded the bases in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. In the 10th and 11th, when each team starts with a runner on second, the Americans had two runners on each time.

But they couldn't manage the hit they needed off reliever Juri Takayama -- stranding 20 runners in all to suffer their first defeat since the 1998 world championships, and their first setback ever to third-ranked Japan.

"When we step on the field, we don't assume anything," said losing pitcher Michelle Smith, a four-time most valuable player of Japan's top professional league who was facing some of her teammates. "We know we have to execute. We didn't today."

In the 11th, Japan (3-0) moved its free baserunner to third on a groundout. Haruka Saito hit a grounder to Richardson; she bobbled the ball, then recovered before throwing it wild to first base and allowing the game's first run to score.

Richardson's second error followed when she tried to cut off a throw to second to guard against a double steal. The ball rolled into center field and another runner came home to make it 2-0.

"What we did today was something I never expected," U.S. coach Ralph Raymond said. "You can't make mental mistakes, and we made a carload of them today."

Even so, the Americans had another chance in the bottom of the 11th when Crystl Bustos and Sheila Douty singled to score the free baserunner and make it 2-1. But Douty was caught going to second, then Takayama struck out Jennifer Brundage and Stacey Nuveman looking to end it.

"You saw a team full of heart out there, even though we didn't finish the job," said Lisa Fernandez, who broke into tears when talking about her 0-for-13 slump. "Things happen for a reason. I'm not exactly sure what the reason is, but we'll come back."

Smith pitched 5 2/3 innings of relief, striking out eight and walking none while allowing just two hits and two unearned runs. Raymond said he would decide overnight whether she would pitch against China on Wednesday as scheduled.

"I feel great," she said.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, a softball player in a Cleveland "pigtail league" as a child, threw out the first pitch before the game.

And pitching was the story during the game, as well, as both teams were scoreless through 10 innings.

Christa Williams, who has a 74 mph fastball that makes her the fastest pitcher on the U.S. staff, gave up a single to the first batter of the game and then retired the next 13.

She struck out 10 in all, allowing five hits -- three of them to start the sixth. But the Japanese ran themselves out of a rally when Laura Berg threw out Haruka Saito with a perfect throw to the plate for the first out.

Smith relieved Williams and, on her second pitch, Nuveman threw out Naomi Matsumoto trying to steal second. Noriko Yamaji struck out on the next pitch to end the inning.

The Americans threatened in the seventh, when leadoff batter Christie Ambrosi was hit by a pitch. With Richardson at bat, Ambrosi got caught in a rundown, but she escaped and slid safely into first when the second baseman held the ball too long.

Richardson bunted her to second, then Berg singled her to third. Lisa Fernandez grounded out, bringing up Bustos with first base open; she walked to load the bases, but not before hitting one deep, but foul, down the left-field line.

Douty looked at a 3-1 pitch that appeared to be high but was called a strike. With the full count, she hit a grounder that the shortstop bobbled before scooping it to third to end the inning.

Douty, who homered on Sunday in a victory over Cuba, also hit into a bases-loaded double play in the first inning, third to home to first. Williams struck out five of the last six batters against Cuba to earn the save.


Bustos busts two homers as U.S. beats Cuba in softball

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