USA Baseball Wins, Bizarrely
The U.S. baseball team won a 7-0 decision over the Netherlands today, with Stephen Strasburg throwing seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball, left fielder Matt LaPorta contributing a three-run homer and Washington Nationals prospect Shairon Martis taking the loss. That's the normal version.
The weird version ends with talk of a protest of a protest, and goes something like this: the game was halted for an hour and 45 minutes due to monsoon-like rain in in the top of the eighth. The announced attendance had been 996, a number that quickly plummeted to no more than 200. The first pitch after the delay was lined back at Dutch pitcher Dave Draijer, who left the game with an arm injury, leading to another delay.
By the top of bottom of the eighth, the rain had returned. By the top of the ninth, it was pouring. And with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, rain splashing everywhere and the Dutch down 7-0, the umpires pulled the players off the field, to loud boos, or as loud as a few dozen people could manage. Most of the remaining fans then left. Not counting Wukesong Baseball Field volunteers and national officials, there were perhaps 50 of us in the stands.
The rain came pouring down. The Dutch players--still in the dugout because of the tiny clubhouses--began bowling down water bottles with baseballs. Never has Rick Dempsey so been needed in Beijing.
The neutral fans left. All who remained were a few Dutch stalwarts, a couple brave Americans and the families of the American players, who hadn't eaten since about breakfast about 10 hours previously and had already plowed through their supply of sandwiches and Snickers bars.
"They have these little soda biscuits inside, these little crackers, and we were just sitting there eating crackers the whole time," U.S. pitcher Jeremy Cummings said. "Every time you would think you would run out they would bring more. I don't know where they get them from, but that's truly what we did, we just ate crackers for four hours."
"Some cookies or something, that was it," Manager Davey Johnson said.
"Everybody's crammed in there; we just talked and let the hours go by I guess," Strasburg said. "Team bonding."
The mother of shortstop Jason Donald went down to the dugout and tried to give her son a fruit roll-up from her purse. He declined. LaPorta's future mother-in-law worked on the script for his wedding ceremony.
Finally, at 4:34, some U.S. players came out of the dugout and ran their hands across their necks, signaling to their parents that the game was called and they could leave. Many parents did.
But you never want to use the word "finally" where the Olympics are concerned. Run differential matters in this tournament, and the Dutch had a prime scoring chance even if they couldn't win. And so, naturally, they protested the ruling.
"During the second rain delay I was handed an appendix to the rules," Dutch Manager Robert Eenhoorn said later. "It was then that we learned if there was a delay of 90 minutes or more that the game can be called. It wasn't signed. I don't know if we could have gotten back in the game, but with the bases loaded and no outs, I can't say that we would not have put any runs on the board."
Word trickled through the stands, via the Dutch fan base, that this matter wasn't yet settled. Some of the U.S. parents sat back down. An official said they should all try to order pizza. The young Chinese volunteers, all in ponchos, were told they could depart; they left with a cheer. The parents talked to each about their families and hotels, and wondered whether the Americans could appeal the protest. Never has the Olympics so resembled a Little League baseball game.
Finally, 30 minutes after the game had been called, and more than six-and-a-half hours after it started, we had our answer.
"The answer was that you cannot protest procedures, only rules, which is not really an answer, so I don't know how to take that, but that's what I was told," Eenhoorn said. "You've got to give [the protest] to the technical committee, just hand it out to the umpire. Then they go upstairs to find the rule and you get an answer. It might be a good idea to hand these things out to all the teams earlier in the tournament rather than when these things happen. They told me I could ask for it, but it's kind of hard to ask for things that you don't know exist."
I absolutely love that the appeal came down to the difference between a procedure and a rule. No wonder so many D.C. lawyers love baseball. And what would have happened if the protest had been granted?
"When the umpire says the game is over, I shook his hands and told my guys that's it. " Johnson said. "You know, I would hate to have to get my team back up after telling them the game's over. It's never happened to me. I don't know what I would have done. I would have probably protested that, but we're already at the highest level, so I don't know what you do."
A protest to a protest; man, if only. Anyhow, the remaining U.S. family members--about nine, I believe--stood up and clapped when their team's victory was announced. The remaining U.S. fans--about four, I believe--took photos of each other with their backs to the field. The U.S. players were asked what they had done for the previous four hours; "pretty much nothing, except sitting around," pitcher Blaine Neal said.
The IOC has used baseball's unpredictable length as one argument against its includsion as an Olympic sport. A six-and-a-half hour game that includes two delays, one official protest and a final audience that you can count on six hands probably won't help. But all's well that end's well at the Olympics.
"Well, nobody got hurt, that was the main thing," Johnson said.
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