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Team USA rates incomplete


By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports

March 14, 2006





ANAHEIM, Calif. – Don't call them Team USA anymore. They're not worthy.


This is a flawed group of baseball players, one that boots ground balls and drops pop-ups and can't hit with men on base and takes orders from a manager who would do the team well by stitching his lips shut.


No, this is Team U, which could stand for Underperforming or Uninspired or plain-old Ugly. After a 7-3 loss to Korea in the second round of the World Baseball Classic on Monday night that might render Thursday's game against Mexico meaningless, Team U didn't deserve to wear its country's jersey.


Of course, we should have seen this coming. Because Team U warrants the moniker for another reason: It is woefully incomplete.


Chris Carpenter. Roy Oswalt. Mark Buehrle. Barry Zito.





They weren't on Team U's provisional roster.


Neither were Chone Figgins or Todd Helton or Grady Sizemore or Adam Dunn.


Not to mention Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, Billy Wagner, Tim Hudson, Joe Mauer and, yes, Barry Bonds, who chose not to play for Team U.


Maybe they knew all of the built-in advantages for Team U – its draw without Latin American teams, and American umpires working behind home plate for its games, and home-field advantage – would be undone by a lack of talent.


A talent shortage on a team with 20 All-Stars? Compared to what could be – what should be – it's undeniable.


Since Major League Baseball announced the WBC, it talked about how the best teams in the world would play for international supremacy. If, by best teams, it meant a marquee United States squad that featured Randy Winn getting the majority of at-bats in left field – or, in Monday's case, pinch hitting at a crucial moment – then Team U is a rousing success.


Fact is, as the rest of the WBC keeps producing great games, Team U has become staid. Vernon Wells and Matt Holliday and Chase Utley started Monday night, and while they're good young players, they are not the United States' best.


Hopefully, baseball saw the crowd of 21,288 at a not-even-half-full Angel Stadium and started to fret. Interest here is dying, and for an event that depends on the United States buying into it, that's bad.


As if there weren't enough teeth-gnashing, Martinez's decisions could pay for an oral surgeon's retirement.


Derrek Lee sat the entire game. He has been Team U's best hitter.


Michael Young sat the entire game. He is Team U's best second baseman.


Johnny Damon sat the entire game. He is, at very least, a better option than Winn.


And Carpenter and Oswalt and Sizemore and Figgins …


"We can't worry about who didn't play and who could've been here," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We just have to try to play better baseball."


You know, he's right. And that's the problem. The United States should not need to play better baseball. It should cruise through these games. A team of All-Stars from Major League Baseball, even a deficient one, should beat a team from Korean Professional Baseball every time.


"When you have two talented teams playing baseball," Teixeira said, "anything can happen."




"We had our chances," Derek Jeter said. "We had our chances right from the first inning."




"It's definitely frustrating to see," Dontrelle Willis said, "because we know the capability of our team."




Excuses no longer fly, not after losses to an inferior Canadian team and a Korean team that, while playing brilliant baseball, is vulnerable against a patient lineup.


Team U has two days off to think about its error-filled calamity, and they'll be tense ones. If Japan beats Mexico on Tuesday, it sets up a scenario in which Team U could be eliminated before its game Thursday with Mexico.


All the while Martinez will think back to the fourth inning of Monday's game. Team U trailed 3-1, and with two outs and a runner on second base, Martinez decided to walk Seung Yeop Lee, Korea's most dangerous hitter. He had walloped a home run in the first inning off Willis, sure, but standing in the on-deck circle was the Dodgers' Hee-Seop Choi. Not sure if there's a rule anywhere, but generally speaking, you don't give an intentional walk to get to the cleanup hitter, particularly the only major leaguer in the lineup.


Well, Choi yanked a home run down the right-field line and Korea led, 6-1. Its pocket of fans down the third-base line screamed and the whole team spilled out of the dugout to congratulate Choi. He waved his hand to everyone here, and to millions of people in Korea who actually care about this tournament.


In center field, fireworks exploded, and the residue was slow to dissipate. It looked like there was a fog hanging over Team U, and it just wouldn't go away.



Yahoo! Sports' national baseball writer Jeff Passan previously was the national baseball writer for the Kansas City Star.

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