Perfect. Well, almost.
Except for a home run that wasn't, Lisa Fernandez would have pitched a perfect seven-inning game against Australia. Instead, she threw the 10th-inning home-run pitch that beat the U.S. women's softball team 2-1 Friday, its second loss in 10 years.
She should never have had to pitch to Joanne Brown. With two outs in the fifth inning of the scoreless game, American Dani Tyler hit the ball far over the centerfield fence and high-fived on-deck batter Laura Berg after passing home plate. Passing it, not stepping on it. Her right foot slid over it, the heel coming down just beyond it.
She was in the dugout when Aussie catcher Joyce Lester called for the ball and stepped on the plate. Canadian umpire Michael Hornak called Tyler out _ the third out. "One of the things you do when you play softball is make sure you touch all the bases," Lester said. "That's part of the game."
Tyler was credited with a triple and fitted for goat's horns. "I can't believe I didn't touch it," she said. "Someone said the back of my heel touched it. But you can't argue with the umpire. He made the call. ...You can argue all you want, but all it does is make the umpires mad at you. You can whine about it, and all it does is make the crowd hate you and make you look like a jerk."
Actually, the Americans did argue about it at the time, and rather theatrically. Afterward, U.S. shortstop Dot Richardson exclaimed: "You just don't take away a home run that's hit 20 feet over the fence on a questionable "did-she-touch-it-or-not?' "
Hornak was asked later whether he was aware of the "magnitude" of his call. "The magnitude makes no difference," he replied dryly. "It was the right call."
With the game still scoreless, Fernandez returned to the mound and continued mowing down the Aussies. Meanwhile, her counterpart, Tanya Harding, who pitched and batted UCLA to the 1995 NCAA championship, kept the Yanks at bay.
In the 10th inning the international tiebreaker rule (each team starts its half-inning with a runner on second) came into play.
The Americans, now 115-2 over the past 10 years and 5-1 in the Olympics (they earned a medal-round berth with a 4-2 victory over Canada that ended at 1:50 a.m. Friday), got a run in the top of the 10th. With Dionna Harris on second, Sheila Cornell singled and Harris was awarded home when centerfielder Haylea Petrie threw the ball into the photo booth behind third.
It took the tiebreaker rule to put an Australian runner on base against Fernandez. It didn't seem to matter when she fanned Kim Cooper for her 14th strikeout and got Lester on a grounder.
After missing the plate with her first pitch, Fernandez got two strikes on Brown, then, "I gave it everything I had," she said tearfully. "I probably overthrew it. It was supposed to be a riseball, and it flattened out over the middle of the plate and she jumped on it."
Brown launched it, a liner two rows into the centerfield stands _ the first Aussie ball hit out of the infield.
"I watched the first two (strikes) go by and felt pretty silly," Brown said. "They were very hittable. I was expecting one that was going up. She just didn't get it up enough. I made sure I hit first, second and third really hard _ and I made sure I planted both feet on home plate."
In another game Friday, Japan (4-2) defeated Puerto Rico 8-1 (1-5). The top four teams advance to medal play, beginning Monday.