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COLUMNISTS

Sun, August 22, 2004

Not quite at Whitt's end


ATHENS -- In 1904 at the St. Louis Olympic Games, Canada won gold in soccer. In 1936 in Berlin, our nation won silver in basketball.

That's it for traditional team sports. And you have to go that far back.

Forget synchronized swimming and rowing eights. You have to go back 68 years and 90 years for the previous Olympic medals in traditional team sports.

With Australia's 22-2 win over the Netherlands last night here in Athens, Canada qualified for the medal round in baseball for the first time in history.

SECOND STRAIGHT LOSS

Canada lost 5-2 against Cuba earlier in the day, its second straight loss. But at the end of the day, as the Brits would say, Japan, Cuba, Canada and Australia are through to the semifinals on Tuesday. Three of the four will go home with medals.

The question, however, is if Canada can win another big game. There is some evidence that all the wheels have fallen off the wagon Ernie Whitt has driven to the edge of history.

Suddenly the Canadians are seeing nothing but left-handed pitchers throwing junk at them. The Canadian bats have gone as cold as Portage and Main in the middle of a Winnipeg winter. And suddenly this team, which gave Canada just about all our nation had to cheer about in the first week of the Games, looks to have lost its swagger.

But, hold on, Whitt said.

"There are still wins left in this team," Whitt said. "Our players believe we have wins left in us. We know we can play with Cuba. We've seen Japan play the other teams."

Japan beat Canada 9-1 Friday but lost to Australia in the tournament and needed an extra inning to get by Taiwan yesterday.

"We need to do something. They're bringing the (junk) out to throw at us and we keep swinging at it," catcher Pete Laforest said of the steady diet of breaking balls.

"We're not making the adjustments. We're still a good team but we've got to start making those adjustments."

After falling behind 4-0 early, Ryan Radmanovich drove in two to cut the gap to two and gave Canada a chance against Cuba, a team the Canucks defeated in Italy in a pre-Olympic tournament.

But a perfect example of this team not having its batting helmets screwed on straight came when Canada had runners on first and second in another inning and Stubby Clapp forced fading Cuban starter Norberto Gonzales to throw nine pitches in his time at bat. But Adam Stern, the second-youngest member of the team, then came up and swung at a first pitch and grounded into a double play to end the inning.

"It's not over yet, just because we lost two games to Japan and Cuba," Radmanovich said. "We still have wins in us. We'd love to play these guys again. And we can play against Japan. We can still win the gold medal.

"There won't be any hanging heads on our bus. We just have to go back to the village and wake up the bats."

Whitt said the solution is obvious.

WHERE'S THE OFFENCE?

"We've got to score some runs," the manager said of his outfit, which is first in tournament fielding and pitching, but sixth of the eight teams in hitting.

"I like our bullpen. If we can get the starters through five innings, we can close them down."

Canada's final round-robin game today against Australia is more or less meaningless except in terms of positioning - it is first versus fourth and second against third in the semifinals.

Japan and Cuba, both at 5-1, have games against Greece and Italy, respectively. Canada and Australia are both 4-2.

Today, Whitt will start Phil Devey, the pitcher picked to sub for Jeff Francis after the Colorado Rockies decided to make him unavailable at the last minute.

Whitt will hold Shawn Hill, the pitcher the Montreal Expos provided to the team for a maximum of two games, to start the semifinal.


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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