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27 Sep 2000
Sydney 2000

Baseball - The United States baseball team

Cuba had won the previous two Olympic baseball titles, but their air of invincibility had evaporated in 1997, when a 152-games winning streak came to an end, courtesy of Japan. Nonetheless, the Cubans still came to Australia full of confidence. After all, for more than three decades, they had won every world and Olympic baseball competition they had entered.

The regulations about which players would actually take part in the Olympic competition had changed. The USA still could not call on players from its Major League teams so entered a squad of minor league players instead. South Korea suspended its own league to boost the Olympic team while Japan also prioritised success at the Games. Meanwhile, Cuba's chances appeared to have been undermined when a number of the nation's top players decided to compete in America instead.

The champions started in style with two easy victories over South Africa and Italy. They just about got past the Koreans, recovering from a 4-0 deficit to win 6-5, but then they succumbed to their first defeat in 21 games, losing, astonishingly, to the Netherlands.

Now the world started questioning whether the Cubans' title-winning streak was in jeopardy. As if to dispel the doubts, victories followed against Australia (edged out 1-0) and then impressive wins over the USA (6-1) and Japan (6-2). Another win over Japan put Cuba into the final.

There they faced the Americans. The USA had enjoyed a rather circuitous route to the gold-medal match, including a semi-final game against Korea that was suspended for two hours because of rain with just one inning left. They had plenty of experience in their ranks – but could they hold back the champions?

The answer, emphatically, turned out to be yes. The star of the final turned out to be pitched Ben Sheets, who threw a complete shut-over. No Cuban batsman got beyond second base and the Americans triumphed 4-0, inspired by Mike Neill's home run in the first inning.

For America, it was to prove an Olympic highpoint. While Cuba regained the Olympic title four years later, the USA – reigning champions – didn't even qualify.

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