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Cuba Advances Its Quest for Gold

September 26, 2000

New tournament format, same result. Orestes Kindelan drives in runs and Cuba plays for the baseball gold.

Kindelan, the cleanup hitter on Cuba's two gold-medal teams, drove in three runs with a pair of singles today for a 3-0 victory over Japan in the semifinals.

The Cubans will play in their third consecutive gold-medal game, either the United States or South Korea, who met in the other semifinal.

International baseball leveled the field by allowing professionals in the Olympic tournament for the first time. Cuba had its 21-game winning streak snapped and had two more close calls--a pair of one-run wins--during the preliminaries.

A team featuring 13 gold-medal players was at its best when the gold was on the line. Japan, which sent eight top players from its major leagues to the Olympics, got out-hit, out-pitched and--during the game's turning moment--out-coached.

Jose Ariel Contreras, Cuba's top pitcher, held a lineup featuring four Japanese major leaguers to six hits while striking out nine. Contreras, who mixes a 90 mph fastball with a nasty breaking ball, allowed only four balls out of the infield in the first six innings.

The game was delayed by rain for 68 minutes in the first inning.

Japan, which lost the gold medal to Cuba in 1996, chose not to use top starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had only two days of rest after his nine-inning start against South Korea.

Instead, it went with Tomohiro Kuroki, who took Hideki Irabu's place as the top starter for the Chiba Lotte Marines three years ago. Kuroki lost because he couldn't handle Kindelan.

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