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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Dot's the Way Things Go as U.S. Stunned by Japan

Softball: Richardson commits two errors in 11th inning, leading to 2-1 loss and end of 112-game winning streak.

September 19, 2000|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BLACKTOWN, Australia — Dot Richardson, who turns 39 on Friday, made two errors in one inning.

Lisa Fernandez, maybe the best softball player in the world, is 0 for 13, which is 0 for the Olympics.

Sheila Douty, a 39-year-old grandmother who has played too many softball games to count, made an inexplicable baserunning error in the bottom of the 11th.

With their veterans playing like rookies, the U.S. women's softball team lost in the 11th inning, 2-1, to Japan. That ends a streak of 112 wins for the U.S. Since 1996, the Americans had lost only to Australia and the last loss was two years ago.

The Americans left 20 runners on base, an Olympic record. The 11-inning game was the longest in Olympic history.

That history is only since 1996, but it has been long enough to estab-lish the U.S. women as the New York Yankees of international softball.

"All the hype and attention are new and exciting," Richardson said, "but it's also adding new pressure we haven't faced."

Richardson, the orthopedic surgeon who has proudly told her story to sell her game for four years, answered all the questions after her disastrous 11th inning.

Women's softball games are seven innings. Conventional extra innings are played in the eighth and ninth innings, but the U.S. and Japan were still scoreless.

Then came softball's version of soccer's penalty kicks or tennis' tiebreaker. After the ninth inning, the runner who made the last out in the previous inning starts on second base for her team.

The object is to force action, encourage bunts and steals, to jump-start scoring.

It turned out to be Dr. Dot's nightmare.

A year ago Richardson moved from shortstop to second base to make room for power-hitting, slick-fielding Crystl Bustos.

Ever since, there has been grumbling that Richardson is not good enough to be playing second for this team, that she is receiving favored treatment and that no matter how inspirational her game-winning home run at the 1996 Olympics, it is time to move on.

Those arguments will be heard more now.

Emi Naito started the top of the 11th on second for the Japanese. Hiroke Tamoto sacrificed Naito to third. Haruka Saito then grounded to Richardson, who looked Naito back to third and went to throw Saito out.

Except the throw sailed over first baseman Douty's head. Naito scored the game's first run and Saito ended up on second. Misako Ando followed with a single and Saito moved to third on a misplay by right fielder Leah O'Brien-Amico.

After relief pitcher Michele Smith struck out Reika Utsugi, Richardson, in trying a cutoff play to prevent a double steal, dropped the throw from catcher Stacey Nuveman. Saito scored the second Japanese unearned run and Richardson was stunned.

The U.S. managed one run in the bottom of the 11th, but Jennifer Brundage and Nuveman each struck out looking, stranding Bustos at third. The inning might have been bigger had Douty, who had followed Bustos' run-scoring single with a single of her own, not tried to take second on a bloop hit.

Douty is not fast and she was easily out. There could have been runners at first and third with no outs and a run in. Instead there was a runner on third with one out, and those two strikeouts followed.

In four previous innings the U.S. had left the bases loaded.

"We had a lot of situations where I came up with runners on base," said Fernandez, who broke down crying. "Things are not going my way. I'm a drag on this team. I need a tremendous amount of faith from my teammates to stay with me."

Fernandez, the ace U.S. pitcher as well as its third baseman, is scheduled to pitch against Australia on Thursday. The U.S. plays China on Wednesday. The Americans can probably afford two more losses and still make the medal round.

"But that's not what we want to do," Fernandez said. "This is a bump in the road. It's a situation we're not used to and we're better than this. We have to make sure and get to the medal round."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Rare Loss

The U.S. softball team won its previous 112 games before Monday's 2-1 loss to Japan:

LAST LOSS

July 29, 1998

World Championships

Round-robin play

Australia 2, U.S. 1 (12 inn.)

LAST OLYMPIC LOSS

July 6, 1996

Atlanta Games

Round-robin play

Australia 2, U.S. 1 (10 inn.)

NOTE

U.S. won both tournaments

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