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The Japanese, God bless 'em, have dignity. Ten U.S. batters came
to the plate in the first inning of last night's baseball game
at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Five of those batters homered.
Four of the homers were consecutive. And when the first-inning
onslaught was finally over and seven U.S. runs had crossed the
plate, the Japanese players and coaches assembled by their
dugout, made a circle of solidarity and then played the rest of
the game.

Not only that: Japan even made a game of it, briefly. The
Japanese batters figured out Kris Benson--the lanky righthander
from Clemson University--in a way not many other teams, foreign
or domestic, have been able to. They nicked him for a pair of
runs in the second, two more in the third, another in the
fourth. Squandering perfectly good leads was not what the
Pittsburgh Pirates had in mind when they took Benson as the
first overall pick in the major league draft in June, but that's
what he did last night. And there it was, for a brief shining
moment and before a nearly full house on another lovely Georgia
night: a baseball game, a two-run baseball game.

It didn't last long. The U.S. set one other Olympic baseball
record besides most homers in an inning and most consecutive
homers. Thanks, in part, to two more dingers, in the fifth and
sixth, the U.S. put the game away. You do all that, you had
better win. And the U.S. did, 15-5, in a seven-inning game
abbreviated by the 10-run-lead mercy rule used by international

The U.S now has four victories and no losses in the eight-team
Olympic baseball tournament, as does Cuba. (The two teams meet
Sunday afternoon.) Japan is now 1-3 and in jeopardy of not
qualifying for the medal round, in which the leading four teams
will compete. With the qualifying tournament now more than half
over, the top four teams are Cuba and the U.S., followed by
Nicaragua, which is 3-1, and Italy, which is 2-2. Today,
baseball takes the day off.

The field needs it. The lively international ball and the peppy
metal bats have resulted in some monster games and a great
number of pitcher-catcher consultations. There's practically a
trough between the mound and home plate.

Last night Japan's coaches wore out some more grass, making a
new path from the first base dugout to the mound. Japan's
starter, Koichi Misawa, gave up a first-inning homer to Jacque
Jones (a three-run model), got two outs, then was pulled after
Chad Allen hit a solo shot. Misawa's replacement, sidewinder
Jutaro Kimura, never recorded an out: Troy Glaus, homer to left;
A.J. Hinch, homer to center; Warren Morris, the ninth hitter in
coach Skip Bertman's power-crazed lineup, homer to right. Enter
pitcher number three, Masao Morinaka.

Before the night was out, Japan introduced two more pitchers to
American fans. That's because Jason Williams homered with two
on, in the fifth, and designated hitter Matt LeCroy led off with
a solo blast in the sixth. Soon after, the game was official.
The Americans were jubilant, of course. The Japanese gathered in
a circle outside their dugout, defeated but dignified.

FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: V. J. LOVERO (4) Batting 6-7-8-9 in the U.S. order, (from top) Allen, Glaus, Hinch and Morris finished off a seven-run first. [Chad Allen batting; Troy Glaus batting; A.J. Hinch batting; Warren Morris batting]