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BEIJING 2008 : BASEBALL

Bad blood in U.S. loss to Cuba

August 16, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- The Olympic baseball tournament went from bad to worse Friday for the United States, which lost to Cuba, 5-4, in an extra-inning game that ended in controversy and with an American player in the hospital.

Second baseman Jayson Nix, a top Colorado Rockies prospect, was hit in the face by a pitch that ricocheted off the barrel of his bat as he tried to bunt in the 11th inning. Nix, who was cut above his left eye, was rushed to the hospital for tests and afterward his manager, Davey Johnson, accused Cuban pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo of intentionally hitting Nix.

"I don't see any place in baseball for that," Johnson said. "I'm sure that the team plan was to throw it right at the guy's head. No game in baseball is worth that as far as I'm concerned."

Lazo, who gave up one hit in six innings of relief to earn the win, was incredulous when asked about Johnson's comments. "The ball hit the bat," said Lazo, whose account was supported by television replays. "The ball hit the bat and then hit him in the face."

Nix sustained a laceration to his left eyebrow and is out of the tournament, which could hurt because the U.S. is without infielder Mike Hessman, who sat out the last two games because of a foot problem.

Friday's loss drops the U.S. to 1-2 in the tournament and leaves it in danger of missing the medal round for the first time in an Olympics in which it competed.

Under regular baseball rules, Nix wouldn't have been at the plate in the 11th inning. But this tournament is the first to be played under a complicated tiebreaker rule requested by the International Olympic Committee, which had complained that baseball was the only sport that had an indeterminate playing time and, unlike soccer and softball, no procedure to make ties easier to break.

Under the format, each team begins the 11th inning with runners on first and second bases and can start the at-bat anywhere in the lineup. Cuba, 3-0 in pool play, started with leadoff hitter Glorbis Duvergel, who sacrificed the runners into scoring position for Michel Enriquez, who singled them both in.

In the bottom of the inning, the U.S. opened with Nix, who had popped out with the winning run on second to end the 10th. He also tried to bunt but fouled the pitch into his face.

Brian Barden then came on to hit and got the bunt down. Dodgers farmhand Terry Tiffee followed with a sacrifice fly but Matt Brown fouled out to the catcher with the tying run on third to end the game.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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