BARCELONA, Spain -- Japan bashed the United States last night.
This time it was in Olympic base- ball. Japan had two monstrous home runs, and 14 hits off four American pitchers. The Japanese took away the U.S. team's ability to run, allowing only seven hits and holding runners tight. They were flawless in the field, and the Americans were careless on the bases.
By the end of the night, the Japanese had slapped more high-fives than the Dream Team.
The fallout from the 7-1 loss to Japan could be serious.
It means the United States will meet gold-medal favorite Cuba tomorrow night in the opening game of the four-team medal round. Japan meets Taiwan in tomorrow's other game.
The United States might have to settle for a bronze medal or less.
"We wanted to be in the No. 2 or No. 3 position," said U.S. coach Ron Fraser, who met in the dugout with his team for 10 minutes after the game.
"That way, we would get Cuba in the championship game and have a chance of at least winning the silver. Maybe Cuba will overlook us. But we're in a little political situation with them right now. Maybe they will be forced not to overlook us."
The United States played Cuba this summer during the Olympians' 30-game exhibition tour and lost five of seven games. It lost to Cuba, 9-6, on Wednesday night.
The Americans are concerned.
"We have to play them for nine innings with an 'I don't care' attitude," said Jeffrey Hammonds, who has signed with the Orioles as their No. 1 draft pick.
"We probably had to play them to win the gold medal in the championship game anyway; we're just playing them a game earlier. When we came here, we wanted to be 6-1, 5-2. We're there, so now we have to take care of business. We've beaten them before."
The U.S. team could have avoided the early showdown with Cuba (7-0). The loss yesterday created a three-way tie for second among the United States, Japan and Taiwan, all with 5-2 records.
The tie was settled by using head-to-head results in games between the tied teams. Because each team was 2-1 against the other, the next criterion was fewest runs allowed in games between the tied teams.
Taiwan gave up 10, Japan four and the United States 16.
"We knew the rules coming in and that's just the way it is," said Fraser.
Now, only if the U.S. team had known more about Japan.
"None of these players were the same ones we saw," said Fraser, whose team was 1-5 against Japan on a summer tour. "I don't know where they hide them."
Maybe that's why U.S. starter B. J. Wallace was so effective through the first five innings. He had allowed only four hits and one unearned run. The score was tied 1-1, thanks to a 410-foot home run by Hammonds.
But then Wallace threw a sinker to Koji Tokunaga. He hit it over the wall in dead center. Shigeki Wakabayashi was up next. He sent a high curveball over the wall in right-center. Japan scored two more runs in the inning to take a 5-1 lead.
Errors, mental and physical, didn't help either.
A fielding error by shortstop Craig Wilson allowed Japan a run in the second inning. It should have been an inning-ending double play.
Wilson also missed a hit-and-run signal that left catcher Charles Johnson stranded between first and second in the third inning. Instead of a possible bases-loaded situation later in the inning, the United States didn't get a run.
Wilson also was guilty of a base-running error in the fifth, making a wide turn around third on a possible double-play ball to first with none out. Once Japan got the force at second, shortstop Togo Akihro faked a throw to first, then went to third to pick off Wilson.
"Japan was well-prepared, and played extremely well," Fraser said after his 10-minute post-game meeting with his team. "I don't know if a team can play as well as they did."
Fraser will find out soon. The Cubans are up tomorrow night.