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Monday, October 24, 2011
U.S. upsets Cuba in Pan Am baseball

Associated Press

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Even if it isn't quite the "Miracle on Grass," it's still a victory over Cuba, and it's still a big deal for the U.S. baseball team.

The United States upset its biggest rival 12-10 Monday in the baseball semifinals at the Pan American Games, knocking the 10-time defending champion Cubans off the top of the medal podium for the first time since 1967.

"This is the fifth time I've played Cuba, and we finally beat them," said U.S. shortstop Jordy Mercer, who doubled in two runs in the fourth inning. "I told the guys that Cuba will never give up and to keep battling, and sure enough they came back. It's just a credit to this team that we kept fighting."

Cuba has dominated baseball at the quadrennial games since the first tournament in 1951. It has won 12 of the 15 titles, including every one between 1971 and 2007. The United States, which beat the Cubans to win the gold in 1967, has finished second to Cuba eight times.

"I thought Saturday's game against Mexico was one of my top baseball moments all-time, but this game just jumped ahead," Mercer said, comparing Monday's game to the tight 3-2 loss to the host country in front of a raucous crowd.

Although the baseball victory didn't add to the gold medal tally, the United States still won five more titles on Day 10 of the Pan American Games to bring its leading total to 62 gold and 165 overall. The U.S. won the women's team all-around in gymnastics for the 14th time, while Jordan Burroughs took gold in the men's 74-kilogram freestyle wrestling category and Jacob Varner won the 96-kilogram class. Weston Kelsey later won the men's epee and Lee Kiefer won the women's individual foil.

But those golds weren't as surprising as Monday's baseball victory.

The Americans cranked out 11 hits, and everyone in the lineup got at least one in Lagos de Moreno. Jordan Danks and Brett Carroll were the only players with two hits.

The U.S. took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third when Jim Gallagher doubled in two runs. The Americans scored five more in the fourth and stretched their lead to 12-2 by the fifth. They then held on as the Cubans chipped away.

"We jumped out to an early lead, but at no point did we think we were going to run away with it," U.S. manager Ernie Young said. "Cuba is a great team and their players showed their fight today. They never gave up, but neither did our guys, and we held on for the win."

Although the victory isn't nearly as momentous as the U.S. hockey team's win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, known as the "Miracle on Ice," it was still a big barrier to clear.

And the next step will be in Tuesday's final against Canada, which beat Mexico 5-3.

"We've got one more game to go, and our guys know that," Young said. "This team has seen its ups and down this month, but we've never lost confidence. The players know exactly what they need to do tomorrow."

The United States was playing with professional players, something it didn't do at the Pan American Games four years ago in Rio de Janeiro. Cuba, meanwhile, was coming off a loss to the Netherlands last week in the Baseball World Cup final.

In gymnastics, the team of Bridgette Caquatto, Jessie DeZiel, Brandie Jay, Shawn Johnson, Grace McLaughlin and Bridget Sloan combined to score 219.750 points. Canada was second with 217.450 points and Brazil took third with 209.825.

"We had a team with a bunch of newcomers, a bunch of younger girls just wanting the experience," said Johnson, who won her fifth Pan Am Games gold medal to go along with her Olympic title from Beijing three years ago. "I wanted to be a role model and help these girls. I was so proud of them."