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Hometown hero leads U.S. victory

Some lingering effects from the Opening Ceremonies had Kennesaw, Ga., native Kris Benson and the rest of the U.S. baseball team feeling warm, tingly and a little tired Saturday at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Running on four hours' sleep and the adrenaline of pitching the first Olympic game only 20 miles from where he grew up, Benson overcame a late arrival and a wobbly start to lead the United States to a 4-1 win over Nicaragua in front of 40,458.

"This meant the world to me," said Benson, the first overall pick in June's amateur draft by Pittsburgh. "I wanted to pitch here in the Olympics on the opening day. I know how significant it was to pitch in front of a lot of people I know. There's a lot of expectation. Hopefully I'll be able to go on and play well."

The U.S team got back from the Opening Ceremonies at about 2 a.m. and was up again at 6:15 a.m. And when the team did get up, the bus was late because of what one Olympic official said was a bomb scare. The U.S. team didn't arrive at the stadium until about 15 minutes before the scheduled first pitch.

Four innings into the game, the United States was losing 1-0 to 35-year-old left-hander Asdrudes Flores.

But with Benson beginning to steady by the third and Flores losing his control, the United States began to manufacture some runs. After loading the bases in the fifth with nobody out, Matt LeCray scored the first run on Jason Williams' sacrifice fly, and A.J. Hinch scored the go-ahead run when Jacque Jones grounded out to short.

"I had a lot of energy for that first at-bat in the Olympics, but I settled down after that," Jones said. "I still was on a high from the Opening Ceremonies last night but after the second at-bat, it was okay."

USA scored two more runs in the sixth after loading the bases again, this time with one out. Hinch was hit by a pitch for the second time, driving in Troy Glaus, and Warren Morrow followed with a sacrifice fly to center.

Benson allowed seven hits in eight innings _ including four in the first two innings _ and finished with seven strikeouts and two walks.

"At first we were kind of sluggish," said Jones, the U.S. centerfielder. "I think it was the excitement of being in the Olympics for the first time and not knowing what to expect. When we settled down, we showed what kind of baseball we'll be playing the rest of the tournament."

The United States struck out five times in the first four innings and managed only six hits in the game _ two for extra bases. Only four times in the 16 pre-Olympic games did the Americans have six or fewer hits, and five of those games were against top Olympic medal contenders Cuba and Japan.

The United States plays South Korea on Monday.

CUBA 19, AUSTRALIA 8: Second baseman Antonio Pacheco hit two home runs and set an Olympic record with seven RBI in Cuba's win over Australia. It was Cuba's 135th consecutive win in international tournament play.

Australia managed to give Cuba a slight scare, taking a 4-2 lead in the second and tying it at 8 in the fourth, but the Cubans broke the game open with an eight-run sixth inning.

The Cubans were toying with the Aussies; they sent out their bottom-rung pitchers, conserving their top arms for tonight's game against Japan, the first key matchup of round-robin play.

Still, Australia's eight-run total was surprising. In sweeping nine games en route to the gold medal at Barcelona, Cuba allowed only 16 runs overall. Designated hitter Orestes Kindelan had two home runs and five RBI; his second home run came after a 1 hour, 22-minute rain delay.

JAPAN 12, NETHERLANDS 2: Yasuyaki Saigo's pinch three-run homer completed a six-run rally that carried Japan past the Netherlands in a game shortened to seven innings.

Saigo's homer, the third of the night by Japan, prompted the 10-run rule.

The Japanese sent 10 batters to the plate in the seventh to score six runs. The Netherlands made three of its four errors in the inning.

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