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The Big Event

WHAT: United States (5-0) vs. Cuba (5-0) in baseball.

WHEN: 3 p.m. today.

OLYMPIC HISTORY: Baseball has been a medal sport only since 1992, when Cuba swept through the competition 9-0 and won the gold medal. Cuba's team batting average was a whopping .404. The United States went 5-4 and finished fourth. Baseball was an exhibition or demonstration sport six times before it became a medal sport.

RECENT HISTORY: The United States is 6-3 against the Cuban national team in the past year. But Cuba has been unbeatable when it counts: the team has either a 122-game or 139-game international play winning streak, depending on to whom you listen.

MEDAL HOPES: The United States and Cuba are the only teams with 5-0 records. The four-team medal round begins Thursday.

ABOUT THE UNITED STATES: The Americans, 32-4 over the past year and winners of 14 straight, are confident going into this game. Not only has this U.S. team beaten the Cubans in four pre-Olympic games, but the team has been hitting hard in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. In the first four games, the Americans had 13 home runs, including an Olympic-record seven in their 15-5 victory over Japan Thursday.

Fifteen of the 20 players on the U.S. roster were selected in the June baseball draft. Eight were first-round picks, including the first four selections: pitcher Kris Benson, first baseman Travis Lee, reliever Braden Looper and pitcher Billy Koch.

U.S. coach Skip Bertman has had his own success lately. His Louisiana State team won the College World Series.

ABOUT CUBA: The team has a 14-game Olympic winning streak. Its batters have dominated this Olympics. Through Friday, seven of the top 10 RBI leaders (including the top four), eight of the top 10 runs leaders and five of the top 10 home run leaders were Cuban.

Cuban players are state-supported professionals, and many are good enough to play in the major leagues. But the team has been decimated by defections, and many of Cuba's best were not chosen for the team because officials were concerned they might defect.

Its pitching staff, in particular, is suffering. Australia scored eight runs against Cuba, Japan seven and Korea 11.

QUOTABLE: "They (the Cubans) are real good in big games for medals," Bertman said.

"And they have an advantage of 10, 12 years of tournament play. We don't know how our guys are going to react yet when everything is on the line."

_ SHARON GINN

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