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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | BASEBALL

U.S. Enters Medal Round Amid Dodger Influences

Baseball: Former owner O'Malley throws out the first pitch and Lasorda's team moves into semifinals with a 12-1 victory over Australia.

September 25, 2000|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

BLACKTOWN, Australia — Even if this is Rupert Murdoch's country, Fox couldn't mess up a special Dodger night here Sunday.

Peter O'Malley, former owner, threw out the first ball--low and away, breaking stuff into the dirt. Tom Lasorda, former manager, completed his guidance of the U.S. Olympic baseball team into the medal round of the Sydney Games.

The occasion was a 12-1 victory over Australia, which was stopped after seven innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.

The game was played at the Olympic baseball stadium in front of 14,018 fans who were as enthusiastic as they were clueless. Their team, in the Games mostly because the host country gets an automatic spot, was overmatched and punchless against a U.S. team of minor league prospects. But that didn't stop the Aussies from greeting each popup to shortstop as if it were a Mark McGwire tape-measure job. Fly balls to center were occasions for standing ovations. (But then, they sure know more about cricket.)

The only Australian player of note was catcher David Nilsson, who had a seven-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers and, at 30, is the owner of the Australian pro league. Nilsson, who had one hit, a double, wanted so badly to play in the Olympics for Australia that he turned down a large contract offer from the New York Yankees to play in Japan last year for $7 million, then spent much of the Japanese pro season in the minor leagues there.

The U.S. victory, as well as a 6-2 victory by Cuba over Japan, established the medal-round matchups as follows:

* Cuba (6-1) got the No. 1 seed because of its victory over the U.S. on Saturday night, and will play Japan, with a 4-3 record and the No. 4 seed.

* The United States (6-1) got the No. 2 seed and will play South Korea, which had a 4-3 record but was seeded third over Japan because it won their game.

* Cuba will play Japan in the day game Tuesday, followed by the U.S.-South Korea game at night. The winners will advance to the gold-medal game Wednesday night, the losers to the bronze-medal game that afternoon. Two victories will get the U.S. a gold medal--its first since the sport acquired medal status in Barcelona in 1992; a loss Tuesday and a victory Wednesday will get it a bronze medal, same finish as '96 in Atlanta, and two losses will get it fourth place and a medal-less trip home.

O'Malley was given the first-ball honor by the International Baseball Federation because of his long commitment to the game on an international level. Many have credited his big push to get baseball back in the Olympics as a demonstration sport in Los Angeles in 1984, where the games were played in Dodger Stadium, as the catalyst for its current status.

"If it weren't for Peter O'Malley and Rod Dedeaux, we wouldn't be here tonight," Lasorda said. "Peter has built baseball stadiums all over the world, and Rod has worked tirelessly so that the fans of Olympics could see what they are seeing now."

Dedeaux, longtime USC baseball coach, was also the coach of the U.S. team when it played a one-game exhibition in the '64 Olympics in Tokyo and when the IOC listened to O'Malley in '84.

Lasorda said that he would make certain that his team doesn't look past its semifinal with South Korea to a potential rematch against Cuba, with whom it had an unfriendly game Saturday night.

"We're here to represent our country," he said, "and we will not get into situations that don't represent our country well."

Lasorda said he would start Roy Oswalt, a right-hander from the Houston Astros' system, against South Korea. Oswalt beat the Koreans in the preliminary round, helped by Doug Mientkiewicz's dramatic grand slam. Lasorda wouldn't name who would go in a second game, but the best guess was, if the opponent is Cuba, it will be right-hander Ben Sheets of the Milwaukee Brewers' organization.

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