'Anxious' Wait for U.S.

Times Staff Writer

By the time Thursday's World Baseball Classic game against Mexico arrives, Team USA will have spent about 65 hours stuck somewhere between round-two failure and final-round qualifier, precisely the bind the players and staff promised themselves they'd avoid.

Five games into the tournament, their sole convincing victory is against South Africa, their collective earned-run average is more than 4.00 and, if not for a favorable call against Japan, could all have gone back to their respective teams Tuesday morning, for the impact they'd have on the rest of the week.

"Baseball's baseball, man," Derek Jeter said. "Nothing's a fluke. Sometimes, things happen. You go out and play the game, sometimes teams are just better."

Japan beat Mexico, 6-1, on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium, potentially leaving Team USA's fate to be determined by tonight's game between Japan and Korea.

In Pool 1, Korea is 2-0, Japan and the U.S. 1-1, Mexico 0-2.

For the U.S. to stay alive until Thursday, Korea has to beat Japan or, in a nine-inning game, score at least seven runs in a loss, or give up eight or more runs in a loss.

"It'll be an anxious couple days for sure," U.S. Manager Buck Martinez said. "But, that's our fault."

Their left fielder and leadoff hitter, Johnny Damon, has a sore left shoulder and might not be able to play the field for the rest of the tournament.

First baseman Derrek Lee, who had three home runs and drove in eight runs in the first four games, sat out against Korea, also because of a sore left shoulder. And, if they were to advance as far as the final, which is Monday in San Diego, they'd probably have no choice but to start Dontrelle Willis, whose ERA in two starts is almost 13.00. Roger Clemens is scheduled to start against Mexico.

Damon's status has stimulated casual internal discussions about a possible roster change after the second round. A substitute player would have to come from the U.S. preliminary roster; Martinez mentioned Morgan Ensberg, Eric Chavez, David Wright and Barry Bonds.

Bonds, who is beating back fresh allegations of steroid use and was again a conversation topic at Tuesday's practice, played some innings this week in left field for the first time.

Still, Martinez said, he would be more inclined to stay with the players on the roster, particularly since some of them -- outfielder Jeff Francoeur, for example -- have not played as often as Martinez would have liked.

"I feel 100% committed to the 30 guys that committed to us," he said.

After being named to the preliminary roster, Bonds withdrew because of concerns for his knee and later ridiculed the WBC for being less than the Olympics.

Martinez did not reject the notion of adding Bonds, saying, "Barry Bonds with a couple games under his belt is pretty potent."

Team USA practiced Tuesday at Cal State Fullerton, and will again today.

Another excerpt from another book -- this one "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an American Antihero," also scrutinizing Bonds' alleged turn to steroids -- became public Tuesday. Its author, Jeff Pearlman, wrote that Bonds told Ken Griffey Jr. after the 1998 season, "I'm just gonna start using some hard-core stuff," which both took to mean steroids. Pearlman wrote that Griffey "empathized" with Bonds' decision, but Griffey said Tuesday he did not recall such a conversation.

Asked if he believed Bonds' gains in size and strength, and the numbers that followed, were natural, Griffey said, "Does it really matter what I think?"

After a pause, he added, "Yeah. Yeah."

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