The United States has been the Pan American Games baseball tournament's most destructive offensive team, averaging almost 13 runs in its first six games. But it was apparent early in the seventh game Wednesday night that it would have to wait for Puerto Rico's pitchers to self-destruct.
It looked for a while that it might take until this morning.
But 11 innings and more than three hours into the game, left fielder Ted Wood and catcher Scott Servais hit home runs to give the United States a 4-0 victory before a crowd of 4,236 at Bush Stadium.
"Good morning, gentleman," U.S. Coach Ron Fraser said in a post-midnight interview session. "I felt we were going to win the ballgame, but I didn't want to go all night to do it."
The victory left the United States (7-0) as the only unbeaten team through the eight-team round-robin tournament and gives it the No. 1 seeding in the medal round, which begins Friday.
The United States plays No. 4 Canada (4-3) following the game between No. 2 Cuba (6-1) and No. 3 Puerto Rico (5-2). The winners meet Saturday afternoon for the championship.
After getting only two hits in the first 10 innings off three Puerto Rican pitchers, the first four U.S. hitters in the top of the 11th had hits, including a lead-off home run by Wood of the University of New Orleans and a three-run home run by Servais from Creighton University.
"I messed up," said Servais, who came to bat with runners on first and second. "I didn't get the bunt down like I was supposed to."
"That's all right," Fraser told him. "Don't worry about it."
Two U.S. pitchers, Gregg Olson from Auburn University and the University of Georgia's Cris Carpenter, combined for the shutout, allowing only five hits in 11 innings.
Carpenter is 3-0 in the tournament with victories against all of the other teams in the medal round, Canada, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
The six innings he pitched Wednesday night was the longest he's had to work. Fraser said he wouldn't have allowed Carpenter to pitch another inning.
"I was serious when I told him I would quit if he took me out," Carpenter said. "I wasn't going to throw all those innings and get no decision."
Carpenter, a St. Louis first-round draft choice, allowed only two hits, both in the eighth inning. After retiring the lead-off hitter, Carpenter walked the next man and then allowed back-to-back singles to load the bases.
But with one out and the bases loaded, designated hitter Helson Rodriguez hit a hard ground ball to third baseman Scott Livingstone. He threw home for a force, and Servais fired to first to complete the double play.
"I wasn't even thinking about a double play," Carpenter said. "The thing I wanted was a strikeout. That was a big load off my shoulders."
Puerto Rico's starter, Jose Ortiz, might have self-destructed if given a chance by Puerto Rico's Coach, Jose Manuel Carradero. Some major league scouts here believe Ortiz has the best curveball, slow as it may be, among the pitchers in the Pan American Games, but they say he is erratic.
Not until the fourth inning did he allow a hit, a two out-single by right fielder Rick Hirtensteiner. That was one of only three balls hit out of the infield against Ortiz.
But Ortiz walked two men in the first inning, one in the fourth, three in the fifth and one in the sixth before Carradero gave him the rest of the night off.
The U.S. stranded runners on first and third in the first inning and second and third in the fifth. In the first five innings against Ortiz, six U.S. runners were left on base.
In the sixth, the first two hitters reached base for the United States, one on an error and another on a walk before Ortiz was replaced by left-hander Wilfredo Velez.
He retired the next five men he faced and didn't allow a hit until the eighth inning. The United States wasted that one when designated hitter Mike Fiore was picked off first base by Velez.
That was one of only two baserunners Velez allowed in the four innings he pitched.
Puerto Rico had little better success against the U.S. pitchers. Against Olson, Puerto Rico left two men on base in each of the first two innings, then had only one baserunner in the next three innings. In five innings, Olson struck out seven.
But because most of his pitchers are college relievers--the starters he wanted signed professional contracts--Fraser doesn't like them to go more than five innings.
Olson's replacement, Carpenter, retired Puerto Rico in order in the sixth and the seventh before his nervous eighth.