U.S. escapes upset bid in softball

It was all set: All Canada had to do was hold on to a lead in the completion of a rain-suspended preliminary game to hand Team USA its first loss in Olympic softball since 2000.

Smoked meat for everyone!

But they blew it.

Faster than you could say, "Je me souviens," the Canadians forgot how to play.

The U.S. scored four unearned runs in the sixth and rolled to an 8-1 win, their 18th straight dating back to 2000.

But they were ripe.

The U.S. had to play Japan right before the completion of the suspended game. They won, 7-0, and it was on to Canada.

Again.

In the first inning of the teams' prelim game Thursday, Canada had scored a run off an error, an illegal pitch and a sacrifice fly in the first inning, the first time Team USA had trailed in Olympic competition since the gold medal game against Japan in 2000.

After two rain delays the game was suspended due to inclement weather, the U.S. still down, 1-0.

Then yesterday, under the bluest skies Beijing has seen in two dynasties, Canada imploded with two out in the sixth.

With runners on first and second and two out, they chose to walk slugger Crystl Bustos, the world's most dangerous hitter, and put the tying run on third. Pitcher Dione Meier then hit Kelly Kretschman, forcing in one run and allowing the runners to advance. Meier then fired a wild pitch, allowing another to score. On the next play shortstop Jennifer Salling overthrew first base, allowing two more to score.

Ballgame.

Cautiously, afterward Meier said of walking Bustos, "As a pitcher, you have to do those things sometimes."

After the rest of the mess unfolded -- or, in Canada's case, folded -- Team USA smelled the blood and fed. They clobbered Meier, now clearly rattled, for four more two-out runs in the seventh.

"I wasn't happy with the way it went (in the sixth) because we didn't score our own runs," Bustos said. "It was nice to have that seventh."

Cat Osterman completed yesterday's suspended game and allowed a seventh-inning hit. Monica Abbott, who started the game Thursday against Canada, started against Japan yesterday and allowed one hit.

Those are the only hits allowed by the U.S. in its four games, along with the one run.

It might have been enough.

Below: Gratuitous picture of Team USA pitcher Jennie Finch, who did not play yesterday.

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