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Cuba beats US 5-4 in 11 innings

Aug. 15, 2008, 3:39 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Manager Davey Johnson was disgusted with the Cubans, down a key player and finding his U.S. baseball team in a surprising hole only three games into these Olympics.

Jayson Nix fouled a ball off his left eye Friday to start the bottom of the 11th inning of the Americans' 5-4, 11-inning loss to defending champion Cuba, left the game for the hospital and is likely done for the rest of the Beijing Games.

Nix later underwent microsurgery to close about a 2-inch wound above his eye and a CAT scan was negative, according to John Blundell of Major League Baseball, the team's press officer. Nix was taken to a second hospital to be seen by an eye specialist and had been scheduled to stay overnight, but doctors from the U.S. Olympic Committee opted instead to take him to the USOC infirmary in the athletes' village for round-the-clock supervision.

"He's in bad shape," said Johnson, who accused the Cubans and burly pitcher Pedro Lazo of purposely going at Nix's head before later softening his stance.

Nix, who had tied the game with a homer in the eighth, was bleeding badly after the injury and had a lot of swelling, Johnson said. Johnson talked to Nix several hours later and Nix "was in good spirits," Blundell said.

"We know Lazo wasn't trying to hurt him," Blundell said after discussing the situation with Johnson. "He's not saying the Cubans are head hunters."

Lazo is not known for unsportsmanlike behavior, and he was among the first people who hustled to home plate to check on Nix right away. Afterward, he denied going after the batter on purpose.

"It's one thing if the ball hit him in the face, but it hit the bat first," Lazo said, a huge ice pack on his right shoulder. "This is not right (what the Americans said). This is not correct."

Nix had squared to bunt on the play in question.

Johnson, clearly frustrated by losing in such a fashion on the first day international baseball's new extra-innings rule was enforced, said Cuba likely was trying anything possible to get an out at third base.

"I don't think that's the way to defend the wheel," Johnson said. "Lazo's a great pitcher. I'm sure their game plan was to throw right at the guy's head. It bounced up and hit him in the eye. No game of baseball is worth that. ... I told my guys, 'they're going to do something crazy, and that was their crazy play.' In my wildest imagination I didn't think they'd throw right at my player's coconut."

Michel Enriquez lined a tiebreaking two-run single in the top of the 11th that made it 5-3. Lazo pitched six innings of relief for the win as Cuba snapped a three-game losing streak to the U.S.

Cuba manager Antonio Pacheco hardly appreciated hearing about Johnson's harsh words.

"It was a lack of respect on the part of the American coach to say that," Pacheco said. "The Cuban team respects the game and respects our opponents and is incapable of doing that."

After Nix went down, Brian Barden dropped a perfect bunt to move runners to second and third for Tiffee. He hit a sacrifice fly to bring in one run, but Matt Brown popped up foul to the catcher to end it.

Alfredo Despaigne had hit a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the eighth inning for Cuba only to see Nix hit one of his own in the bottom half off Lazo to tie the game at 3. That forced extra innings.

The new extra-innings rule was used not once, but twice Friday. In the other early game, China earned its first-ever Olympic victory with a hard-fought 8-7 win over Taiwan in 12 innings.

Beginning in the 11th inning, runners go to first and second and teams can start at any point in their batting order.

"The whole extra-innings thing, I think, is bogus," U.S. first baseman Terry Tiffee said.

Yet Pacheco pointed out, "It's a rule for all the world."

South Korea edged Canada 1-0 in a game that saw Ryu Hyun-jin throw a complete-game shutout. He gave up five hits and three walks and struck out six. South Korea's only run came on a solo homer in the third-inning by Jeong Keun-woo. Mike Johnson threw six strong innings for Canada but took the loss. Canada dropped to 1-2 and will play the U.S. on Saturday, while South Korea improved to 2-0.

Japan beat the Netherlands 6-0 in the other evening game. Toshiya Sugiuchi pitched seven scoreless innings, and Takahiro Arai went 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs for Japan, which improved to 2-1 while the Dutch fell to 0-3.

Cuba is 3-0 and in strong position for a medal. At 1-2, the U.S. can ill afford many more slipups if it wants to reach the medal stand. The top four teams in the eight-team field will face off in the semifinals, with the losers playing for bronze.

The Americans had already lost a heartbreaker to South Korea 8-7 in their opener Wednesday.

"It's been a fine line for us being 1-2 and 3-0," shortstop Jason Donald said. "That's international baseball for you."

Cuba showed no signs of fatigue following a quick turnaround after beating Canada 7-6 on Thursday night in a game that started late because of heavy rain that put a damper on play all day.

American starter Trevor Cahill labored for most of his outing Friday from the first pitch he threw, a far contrast from the pitching performance the U.S. got in defeating the Netherlands 7-0 a day earlier from their lone college player, San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg.

Cuba starter Luis Rodriguez, with his distinct sidewinder motion, kept the U.S. lineup off balance with a nice mix of off-speed pitches and a fastball that topped out about 88 mph. He struck out Gall, the designated hitter, on an 85 mph pitch to end the second.

Pacheco turned to Lazo to start the sixth. Lazo's pitches are usually clocked in the mid-80s despite his imposing presence on the mound.

"Lazo was marvelous," Pacheco said.

"We couldn't hit him," Brown said.

It was a picture-perfect day for baseball at Wukesong Stadium, where a pleasant breeze kept things a bit cooler than the usual heat and humidity. It felt much like a spring training atmosphere in March. The stands were nearly full save for some empty seats in the outfield bleachers and some high spots above the left-field line.

The large contingent of Cuban fans cheered spiritedly throughout, chanting "Cuba! Cuba!" and "Lazo! Lazo!" while waving flags and banging Thunderstix.