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BASEBALL

Wed, August 25, 2004
Canucks go to wall
Game-tying shot falls just short
By -- Toronto Sun

As painful, heartbreaking Olympic experiences go ...

Well, this one was similar to tripping over the final hurdle, while holding a lead.

Or maybe dropping the baton in a relay with a lead in the final exchange.

Team Canada led the two-time Olympic champion Cubans 3-2 and were six outs away from entering today's gold-medal match against Australia, which upset Japan 1-0 in yesterday's other semi-final here in Athens.

They say the six final outs are the toughest to get for a reason. Canada's semi-perfect bullpen imploded, acting like the Blue Jays relief corps, as the Cubans tagged three pitchers for seven hits. Cuba scored six times for an 8-3 lead.

In typical Canadian/John Wayne true grit, the Canucks weren't done.

Calgary's Ryan Radmanovich hit a solo homer, Scarborough's Todd Betts singled and later scored on a wild pitch. Eventually, Canada had the tying run at the plate with two out in the form of pinch hitter Kevin Nicholson of Surrey, B.C.

And off the bat ...

"I thought it was a home run," said Cuban manager Higinio Velez after his team held on for a dramatic 8-5 win.

"I thought it was gone," Canadian manager Ernie Whitt said .

"If the wind isn't blowing in, it's a tie game," Windsor second baseman Stubby Clapp said.

Frederich Cepeda leapt against the wall to make the game-ending catch and was mobbed by Cuban players.

"It hurts right now, everyone is hurting and it's okay to hurt, but we have a game to play in less than 12 hours," Whitt told the team after the game. "The baseball gods weren't with us, but we have to forget about it."

While Canada beat Australia 11-0 in round-robin play, it lost 9-1 to Japan's Dream Team, composed of two major leaguers from each of the Central and Pacific League teams in Japan.

"(Canada) is a blue-collar team," Whitt said, his voice choking either on mineral water or emotion. "After giving up six in the eighth, a lot of teams would have folded. We didn't and that says a lot."

Nicholson wasn't surprised at Whitt showing emotion.

"When I think of Ernie I think of one word -- respect," said Nicholson, a utility man who lost his job to Danny Klassen. "He has given us every chance to succeed."

Newmarket third baseman Peter Orr, who had handled 26 chances flawlessly in the tournament, fielded a Michel Enriquez grounder, but in an effort to turn two, his throw sailed wide of second and into right field.

Uxbridge's Chris Begg, who had appeared in four games and had allowed three hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings, gave up a Yulieskie Gourriel single, allowing the tying run to score. One out later, Cepeda singled home the tie-breaker off of Victoria's Chris Mears.

London's Adam Stern hit a two-run single in the fifth and threw out Enriquez trying to stretch a single into a double in the sixth.

Georgetown's Shawn Hill worked six innings, allowing two second-inning runs and left with the lead. The Montreal Expos farmhand was allowed to pitch for Canada if he only pitched twice and didn't work more than 85 pitches.

The usually fundamentally sound Cubans fouled off eight bunt attempts, including two by cleanup hitter Osmani Urrutia and Cepeda, who singled against Mears in the eighth.

"We did a good job getting to two strikes, but we couldn't put them away," said Whitt after watching five Cubans get hits with two-strike counts.

"That ball Nicholson hit reminded me of (Kansas City Royals catcher) Jim Sundberg's against (the Jays in 1985) in the deciding game of the American League Championship Series," Whitt said. "Sundberg's ball kept carrying. The wind knocked Nicholson's ball down."


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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