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Archive for Thursday, September 28, 2000

U.S. rips Cubans for gold

September 28, 2000

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— No names, no more.

"I said that when this is over, everybody in the world is going to know about these players," manager Tom Lasorda said. "And by golly, they do."

U.S. pitcher Ben Sheets reacts after defeating Cuba, 4-0. The U.S.
baseball team won the gold medal Wednesday at Sydney, Australia.

U.S. pitcher Ben Sheets reacts after defeating Cuba, 4-0. The U.S. baseball team won the gold medal Wednesday at Sydney, Australia.

The Cubans do, that's for sure. By doing what no one thought possible, a ragtag bunch of U.S. minor leaguers won their country's first baseball gold medal and fulfilled the prediction of its Hall of Fame manager.

A 4-0 victory Wednesday night over Cuba gave the Americans an identity as well as a medal.

Ben Sheets the pitcher who brought the Cuban baseball dynasty to its knees.

Mike Neill the outfielder who homered and made the diving catch that clinched America's first Olympic baseball gold medal.

Ernie Young the player who shoved the Cubans' catcher and beat their hardest thrower.

Beat them? They shut them out, leaving them without a gold medal for the first time in the three Olympic tournaments.

The Big Red Machine of international baseball tore through the competition in Barcelona and Atlanta, going undefeated while picking up a matching set of gold medals.

Cuba brought the core of that team to Sydney, where professionals were allowed for the first time and bats were made of wood, not metal. Thirteen of the Cubans already had Olympic gold medals.

The Americans? They had a pitching staff of high draft picks and an everyday lineup of big-league castoffs. The most prominent player was 37-year-old catcher Pat Borders, who was the MVP of Toronto's 1992 World Series championship.

"I know that when this team was picked, a lot of people looked at the list and said, 'Who are these guys?"' said Doug Mientkiewicz, who twice won games with homers.

In the end, they were the guys celebrating on the field with flags draped around their shoulders and a look-at-us-now expression on their faces.

"I managed the Dodgers for 20 years and had a lot of great moments," Lasorda said. "But this is the greatest moment of my life."

Cuba's undefeated streak in Olympic baseball ended at 21 games with a loss to the Netherlands during the preliminaries. The Cubans recovered by beating the Americans 6-1 Saturday in a game remembered for a bench-clearing push.

Outfielder Ernie Young shoved the Cuban catcher after being hit in the back with a fastball. Border also got spiked at home on a play as the game wound down with raw feelings.

Would there be retaliation and more animosity between the archrivals in the title game?

"We said to ourselves, 'We can't get into that type of game,"' Mientkiewicz said. "You let a sleeping dog lie. They started arguing among themselves."

It was more like grumbling. One after another, the Cubans went down on harmless ground balls induced by Sheets' sinker. Through eight innings, they had only three singles and 16 ground-ball outs.

No one could remember the last time Cuba's vaunted offense failed to score.

"As far as records go, I'm pretty bad," manager Servio Borges said. "I really don't remember, but it could have happened some time."

The United States scored on Neill's tension-breaking solo homer in the first and a three-run fifth inning featuring Borders' RBI double and Young's bases-loaded single.

Sheets struck out the first two Cubans in the ninth, then got Yasser Gomez to hit the fly down the left-field line that Neill caught with a jarring dive.

Sheets slid to his knees and screamed. He was soon engulfed by teammates who joined hands and raised index fingers.

There was a new No. 1

"Cuba has been the dominating team of all time," Young said. "Baseball was started by us, it's played by us and now we won the gold."

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