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COLUMNISTS

Thu, August 19, 2004

Canada still perfect


ATHENS -- It might have played in Guelph, but if Mel Melehes had derailed our national nine, how would it have played in the rest of Canada?

"I wasn't thinking of being the guy who did that to Canada," Melehes said yesterday. "I was more worried about being the guy who gave up 10 runs to Canada."

He damn near did it to Canada.

Melehes, who was able to become a Greek Olympian because his dad was born here, is otherwise a good Canadian kid who pitches for the Guelph Royals in Ontario's Intercounty League. But last night he pitched the game of his life and, surprisingly, gave Canada's ball team its toughest game of the Olympics so far.

It all worked out: Canada escaped with a 2-0 win over Greece and Melehes had his Olympic moment.

"This was by far the highlight of my career," Melehes said.

One day he'll be able to tell his grandchildren he pitched against Canada in the Olympic Games and participated in another great day for Canadian baseball.

What else would you call it?

Beating Greece 2-0 doesn't make the earth move, but Canada has emerged from the first phase of the Olympic baseball tournament as the only undefeated team at 4-0.

That's enough to get you dreaming. These guys are so close to becoming Canada's story of the Olympics, they can taste it.

Australia upset Japan 9-4 yesterday to open the door for Canada to move out front alone. As all the teams in the tournament take the day off today, Japan and Cuba sit second at 3-1 while Taiwan, Australia and the Netherlands are 2-2. Canada plays Japan tomorrow, Cuba on Saturday and Australia on Sunday.

MEDAL ROUND NEARS

One more win and Canada is in the medal round. Two more wins and it likely finishes first in the round robin and plays the fourth-place team in the semifinal.

"We stayed undefeated," said Paul Spoljaric, a former Blue Jay who went a strong 5 1/3 innings, pitching three-hit ball, to win it for Canada. "This is a great group of guys and we've given ourselves a great chance to win a medal. We've put ourselves in a good position to keep it going."

They're not just undefeated here, they're undefeated getting here. The Canadians haven't lost since before they punched their ticket to the Olympics back in November in Panama, leaving the U.S. on the outside looking in - really looking in now as Canada gets closer and closer to going for gold.

This team beat the Greeks in Baltimore, then went 4-0 in a pre-Olympic tournament in Italy.

"I told these guys if we win nine games at the Olympics, we win the gold medal," said manager Ernie Whitt, forced to play without Rob Ducey, who was taken to hospital suffering from dehydration. He is expected back for tomorrow's game against Japan.

"There are still three games to go in the regular round. Our pitching and defence has been outstanding. Other than (yesterday), we're scoring some runs. I'm confident of the team we have here."

Whitt didn't know which Canadian pitcher to compliment first, settling on the one who pitches for Greece.

"He did a great job. He should be a very proud young man."

A Canadian pitching against a Canadian in the Olympic Games is not exactly standard fare. Melehes said the thing that struck him as strange is that Spoljaric now pitches in the Intercounty League as well, yet they've never pitched against each other.

"It's strange coming all the way over to Greece to face each other."

LED BY NO. 4, ORR

Peter Orr led off with an opening-inning double, advanced to third on a Stubby Clapp grounder and came home when Danny Klassen's ground ball was misplayed by Nicholas Theodorou.

It stayed that way until Orr tripled home Ryan Radmanovich in the top of the seventh.

"I hope they're proud at home," said No. 4, Orr. "We're all proud Canadians on this team. We're proud of where we're from. It's exciting to be on the Canadian Olympic team. It's fun to be around our athletes and hearing them tell us they're cheering for us. And it's fun cheering for them."

While Whitt has told his team to take the day off and "go out and see the city," Orr says they'll be going out to see other Canadians compete at the Olympics. They may even teach some of them the Canadian handshake.

You've heard of the high-five, the low-five and the relatively new knuckle-on-knuckle?

Well, somewhere along the way these guys have come up with a new one.

"It was (outfielder) Jeff Guiel," Clapp said. "He came up with it between Baltimore and Italy."

Forming the thumb and the pointer finger into the shape of a "C" for Canada, the players go around exchanging "C" shakes after every win.

If these guys keep writing this story, our country may end up with a national handshake.


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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