Aug. 1, 2003
By Andrew Kitick, USA Baseball
As the 2003 Pan American Games get under way, the USA Baseball National Team opens up play in search of the Red, White & Blue's first Pan American gold medal since the 1967 games in Winnipeg. The USA has been dominant in the summer of 2003 winning all 22 games played in the United States. A sweep of both the Japan National Team and Mexico National Team, six wins on the New England Collegiate Baseball League Tour and a record nine shutouts throughout the streak is just a sampling of what USA Baseball has accomplished this summer. Team USA's first test comes Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET against Guatemala.
At the helm for Team USA is head coach Ray Tanner, now in his fifth stint with USA Baseball. No stranger to international competition, Tanner's most recent stint with Team USA came back in 2000, when he served as an Auxiliary Coach for Manager Tommy Lasorda at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. The Americans captured their first official gold medal in the sport of baseball in the 2000 Olympics. Tanner also worked as an Assistant Coach on the 1996 USA Baseball Olympic Team in Atlanta, Georgia that captured a bronze medal.
Leading the way on the field for Team USA are three returning players from the 2002 squad that won the silver medal at the World University Baseball Championships in Italy. Huston Street (RHP, So., Texas) anchors a pitching staff that has shut down opposing offenses and compiled a 1.42 team ERA. Street has made team-high 11 appearances, owns six saves and has not allowed an earned run in 17 1/3 innings pitched this summer. Returning with Street is the double play combination of second baseman Eric Patterson (IF, So., Georgia Tech) and shortstop Dustin Pedroia (IF, So., Arizona State). Patterson and Pedroia hold the top two spots in the lineup for Team USA and bunt, slap and hit their way on base. Patterson is batting .294 and has collected 13 stolen bases on the summer, three triples and 22 runs, all team-highs. Just right behind him in the lineup is Pedroia, who sports a .309 average, including five doubles and one home run. Pedroia has also been flawless in the field in his 22 starts, not making an error in 79 total chances.
Several newcomers to Team USA baseball have also been consistent at the plate and have been a big part of the winning streak for the Red, White & Blue. Jeff Larish (IF, So., Arizona State) has grown comfortable in the cleanup role of the lineup hitting .304 (24-for-79) with eight home runs and 22 RBI. Larish, Danny Putnam (OF, So., Stanford) and Seth Smith (OF, So., Mississippi) provide left-handed power in the lineup with Team USA combining for 14 home runs and 48 RBI between the three of them. Also providing a boost in power from the right side for USA is starting third baseman Tyler Greene (IF, Fr., Georgia Tech). Greene leads the team with a .436 clip and has three home runs and 18 RBI on the summer.
While the offense has certainly been sizzling, the pitching rotation has shaped up to be one of the most formidable and dominant in U.S. history. Over a 22-game stretch, the USA has allowed just 36 runs in 196 innings pitched and struck out an impressive 202 batters. In addition, this year's staff broke a 15-year old record for most shutouts in the summer with nine, besting the previous mark of eight set by the 1989 National Team.
Along with Street's dominance, the USA's pitching rotation is full of talented arms. Jered Weaver (RHP, So., Long Beach State) has hurled 32 2/3 innings this summer without allowing a run and sports a 3-0 record with 25 strikeouts. Justin Verlander (RHP, So., Old Dominion) leads the staff with a 5-0 record, 39 strikeouts and also owns a 0.79 ERA. Justin Orenduff (RHP, So., Virginia Commonwealth) and Mark Romanczuk (LHP, Fr., Stanford) each have picked up four victories as well. In addition, the USA boasts a strong bullpen with Street, Steven Register (RHP, So., Auburn), Matt Campbell (LHP, So., South Carolina) and Stephen Head (LHP, Fr., Mississippi). All four have combined for 76 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings and been essential in closing out each Team USA victory.
The opposing teams figure to be competitive with loads of professional and international experience among their rosters. Team USA has only trailed three times throughout the entire summer schedule but figure to be tested once in Santo Domingo On the other side of the USA's pool, Cuba enters looking to continue its streak of eight consecutive Gold Medal victories at the Pan American Games. The host Dominican Republic figures to be Team USA's fiercest competitor in pool play, with August 5th's game vs. the Red, White & Blue to be a hotly contested matchup. Home to such MLB stars such as Pedro Martinez, Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, the Domincian Republic's top talent will give every team a run for its money. Also not to be counted out are Nicaragua and Mexico, with each country always among the best in international competition.
TEAM USA BASEBALL SCHEDULE - POOL PLAY
Aug. 2 -- Saturday - vs. Guatemala: 7:30 p.m. ET Aug. 3 -- Sunday vs. The Bahamas: 2 p.m. ET Aug. 4 -- Monday vs. The Dominican Republic: 7:30 p.m. ET Aug. 5 -- Tuesday vs. Nicaragua: 10 a.m. ET