BEIJING Leave it to international baseball to mess with America's pastime and with American players' heads.
Tied with Cuba 3-3 through 10 full innings of Friday's Olympics qualifying game, the United States baseball team watched tournament rules take over.
More specifically, the newly introduced "Extra Innings Rule."
To start their respective halves of the 11th inning, both teams were allowed runners on first and second.
Cuba made the most of their chances, with Michel Enriquez lacing a two-run single into right for a 5-3 lead.
The Americans missed matching the effort, with Brian Barden's bunt advancing the runners and Terry Tiffee smacking an RBI sacrifice fly to make it 5-4 before Matt Brown's foulout gave Cuba the one-run victory.
To a man and to a manager (Davey Johnson) the Americans hadn't seen a game decided in such a way.
"Never," said Brown, the U.S. infielder who played this summer with the Salt Lake Bees. "But this is a different brand of baseball you see a lot of things."
Like the day before, when the Americans were handed a storm-soaked 8-0 victory in the bottom of the ninth inning over The Netherlands after suffering through several prolonged rain delays.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Dutch manager Robert Eenhoorn protested the decision but not claiming his team had a legitimate chance to rally and win. Instead, he said his team needed as many runs as possible, since medal-round qualification rules rely on run differentials to break potential ties among the eight-team field vying for the four semifinal spots.
Brown said the Americans had never practiced the "Extra Inning" scenario before, with Johnson having mentioned the possibility but saying "Let's not get to that point."
But the U.S. got to that point and got beat, falling to a 1-2 record while Cuba improves to 3-0.
"We'll see them again," said Brown of the Cubans, adding that the United States' woes weren't in the final inning but missed scoring opportunities early in the game.
With the score tied 2-2 through seven innings, both teams traded solo home runs in the eighth from Cuba's Alfredo Despaigne and USA's Jayson Nix.
Kevin Jepsen, Brown's Bees teammate, held the Cubans scoreless in the ninth and 10th inning
Then came the 11th, with Nix taking a ball to the face while trying to lead off the Americans' bottom half with a sacrifice bunt to advance the two freshly placed baserunners.
The two managers saw the play different ways, Johnson claiming Cuban pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo threw at Nix and Cuba manager Antonio Pacheco saying the ball ricocheted off Nix's bat before striking him in the face.
Replays supported Pacheco's views.
"I lost my second baseman (Nix) when the pitcher threw the ball at his head," Johnson said. "I don't see any place for that in baseball. I respect the way Cuba plays baseball, but I don't like losing players."
Johnson bemoaned having lost what appeared to be a second player to injury for the tournament.
"There's nothing wrong with hard baseball," he continued, "but to take out a second baseman is uncalled for. I'm a proponent of hardball in baseball, but not in favor of throwing at a guy that was squared around to sacrifice bunt."Countered Pacheco: "I think that it shows a lack of respect on the part of the American coach to say that. It would be one thing if the ball hit Nix in the head first, but it hit the bat, then hit him in the face. We would never make a personal attack because we are professional players. Some things just cannot be controlled. Cubans respect their team and respect the game. We are incapable of doing something like that."
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