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Tuesday, September 19
U.S. struggles with Dutch junkballer

BLACKTOWN, Australia -- The majors? All of those high draft picks on the U.S. pitching staff aren't ready for it yet.

A medal? With each performance, it looks like they just might be up to it.

United States celebrates
Ernie Young (19) leads the post-game high-fives after leading the U.S. to a 6-2 victory Tuesday.

Kurt Ainsworth settled down after a shaky first inning Tuesday and shut down a lineup spiced with former major leaguers, setting up a 6-2 victory over the Netherlands.

Ernie Young doubled home a pair of runs and hit a solo homer, the best part of an offense that had trouble with a junkball pitcher.

No surprise there. The Americans have been lightweights at the plate, hitting .267 as a team. By contrast, their pitching has been nearly as perfect as their record -- 3-0 and counting.

"God bless 'em if they keep doing it," outfielder Mike Neill said. "I'm sure we'll ride their backs all the way to a medal."

A high draft pick has led the United States to all three wins.

Ben Sheets, Milwaukee's top pick last year, threw seven shutout innings in an opening 4-2 win over Japan. Jon Rauch, a third-round pick of the White Sox, struck out 13 South Africans in seven innings of an 11-1 victory.

Up next was Ainsworth, the 24th overall pick overall last year by San Francisco. He gave up a run in the first inning -- the first earned run off the rotation in the tournament -- before pitching like his predecessors.

"It's probably the biggest game I've thrown and I was probably too pumped up early," he said.

It showed. Ainsworth scratched the mound with his cleats, took deep breaths and left pitches over the plate. The Netherlands (1-2) hit them hard.

Rikkert Faneyte, who's played 80 games in the majors, lined a single to start the Netherlands' first. Ralph Milliard, an infielder who was part of the trade that sent Al Leiter to the Mets in 1998, followed with another single.

After a walk loaded the bases with none out, Hensley Meulens hit into a forceout at second to drive in a run. Meulens also has played in the majors and was nicknamed "Bam Bam" as a top minor league prospect in the 1980s.

The U.S. bullpen got busy, but Ainsworth got a double-play grounder to end the threat and earn a second chance. He made good on it, allowing a total of five hits in 6 2-3 innings with three strikeouts.

Asked if he expects the others to needle him about giving up the first earned run off a U.S. starter, Ainsworth said, "I'll probably give myself more grief than they will."

He'll hear nothing from the hitters, who were out of whack against a pitcher who looked like he was throwing batting practice at times.

Rob Cordemans mixed his 88 mph fastball with a changeup that dipped to 66 mph and left the Americans spinning in circles and losing their bats after awkward swings.

"That guy threw slow and slower," said Young, a 31-year-old outfielder who had three of the Americans' eight hits. "He kept it a close game. You've got to give him credit somewhat."

Young's two-run double put the United States ahead in the first and his solo homer to right made it 3-1 in the third. Doug Mientkiewicz doubled off the warning track in center to drive in another run in the sixth and later added a sacrifice fly. Brad Wilkerson also hit a solo homer.

Manager Tom Lasorda got into his second brief argument with an umpire in the tournament. After Brad Abernathy was picked off first, Lasorda walked onto the field, spread his arms and argued for a balk call. The Japanese umpire at first smiled as he listened to Lasorda.

Cuba 6, South Korea 5: Cuba survived its first close call in baseball Tuesday, rallying from a four-run deficit to beat South Korea 6-5 on Juan Manrique's tiebreaking homer in the eighth.

Cuba, which has never lost in the Olympics, ran its record to 3-0 and its streak to 21 wins, including gold medals in Barcelona and Atlanta.

It took some doing. Korea (1-2) stunned the Cubans by pulling ahead 4-0 after four innings. The Cubans' high-powered offense, which came into the game batting .467, managed only two hits in the first five innings off Kim Soo-kyung.

The Cubans sent 10 batters to the plate for five runs in a fist-pumping sixth inning that started with walks to Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan, the heart of their order.

Antonio Pacheco drove both of them home with a double. Kindelan was called safe at home on a close play and immediately raised his arms in celebration. Oscar Macias followed with another RBI double and Yobal Duenas pumped his first as he ran down the first baseline after his two-run single put Cuba ahead.

Park Jae-hong tied it with a two-out homer in the seventh off Pedro Luis Lazo, but Manrique led off the eighth with a homer well over the wall in left. Lazo pitched out of a threat in the bottom of the inning and retired the side in order in the ninth.

Cuba and the United States are the only undefeated teams left in the eight-team tournament. After round-robin play, the top four teams advance to the medal rounds.


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