US accuse Cuba of dirty tricks as batter hospitalised
Fri 15 Aug, 10:47 AM
BEIJING (AFP) - Controversy erupted after Cuba's 5-4 victory over political rival United States in Olympic baseball Friday after US manager Davey Johnson accused a Cuban pitcher of trying to injure American batter Jayson Nix who was left with a serious eye injury.
Nix, who hit a home run earlier in the game, was hospitalized after being struck in the left eye when an 11th-inning fastball from Cuban hurler Pedro Luis Lazo struck his bat as he tried to bunt and deflected into his face.
"I'm sure he was throwing at his head," Johnson said. "Jayson fouled it off and it hit him in the eye.
"He's in bad shape. There's a lot of blood, inside and outside of the eye."
Michel Enriquez smacked a two-run double in the 11th inning to give Cuba a 5-3 lead under a new tie-breaker system that allows teams to start wherever they like in their batting order and with runners on first and second base.
The Americans chose to start the bottom of the 11th with Nix at the plate. The second baseman prospect for the Colorado Rockies had been the Most Valuable Player for the Americans at the World Cup tournament in Taiwan last year.
Now his hopes for a Major League Baseball career might be in jeopardy.
Nix shifted position to bunt and Lazo hurled a fastball toward him at head level. Nix managed to get his bat in position to deflect the ball slightly but could not stop it from smashing into his face.
"I'm really not in favor of a guy squaring around to hit the ball and a guy throwing it right at his head," Johnson said. "It's hard to get out of the way of that pitch.
"In my wildest imagination, I didn't think they would throw right at his coconut."
Nix instantly grabbed his face and fell to the dirt face down as US trainers rushed to the scene and players from both teams gathered around, concerned. Nix was helped off the field, holding a towel over his left eye.
"They said it was swelling with a lot of bleeding," Johnson said. "No game of baseball is worth that as far as I'm concerned."
Johnson played down the political rivalry as anything more than facing just another opponent, but was seething over the injury to 25-year-old Nix.
"I respect baseball in Cuba," Johnson said. "I just don't like it played that way and me losing a player. I've lost him probably for the rest of the series."
Johnson objected to hurling so near a batter to defend "the wheel", the situation to start the tie-breaker when a batter tried to hit the ball to the third baseman for a sacrifice out that advances the runners.
"In the format, throwing at guys in that situation to defend the 'wheel', I don't think it's the place for it."
Defending champion Cuba, seeking a fourth Olympic gold medal in five tries, improved to 3-0 while the Americans slid to 1-2 in the eight-team tournament. Four teams will advance from round-robin play into next Friday's semi-finals.
"I would like to see them in the final," Johnson said.
The checkered history between the teams in a sport destined to be deleted from the Olympic lineup after Beijing includes a 2000 meeting when a Cuban player slid into home plate and shoved his spikes into US catcher Pat Borders, sending the former Major League Baseball star to the ground writhing in pain.