- 19 Aug 08, 07:20 AM
Wukesong Sports Centre, Beijing
USA versus China. The battle at the top of the medals table was distilled on the baseball diamond last night. Not much of a contest you'd think, and you'd be right. USA battered the Chinese 9-1, but the scoreline doesn't tell the whole story.
The game had chugged along politely to the fifth inning, with the US 1-0 ahead. China were struggling to get bat on ball, the US making it look like a gentle workout. China have no pedigree in the sport, haven't got the nuances or the etiquette that come with a century or more of obsession with the ball-park.
But as in all other aspects of China's emergence as a nation, they learn fast, and imitate well. Nate Schierholtz, the stocky US centre-fielder had been whacked by wayward pitches a couple of times, and clearly, was planning to introduce the Chinese team to a bit of retribution, major-league style.
Hovering on third base, with his team-mate having skied a big hit to the deep, he went for it. Well, to be specific, he went for the Chinese catcher, Yang Yang, standing on the plate. Remember Jonah Lomu demolishing Mike Catt or Tony Underwood? Same thing. With a grunt of determination and a dipped shoulder, Schierholtz splattered Yang like a mallet whacking a melon.
Welcome to the big time. Cue a minute or so of shouting, squaring up, jostling and gesticulation. China's coach, the seasoned MLB campaigner James Lefebvre, shot off the bench, leading the protests, getting sent from the field for his trouble. Lord knows what the packed crowd made of it all.
Nowhere in the notes the Chinese supporters were given did it mention baseball was a contact sport. The scoreline read 5-0 to the US at the end of the inning - and 1-0 in the hard-ball stakes.
But you don't have a 3,000 year history without learning a trick or two along the way. At the bottom of the sixth inning, China took revenge. With an, "accidental", slip of the wrist, pitcher Chen Kun unleashed his 83 mph fast ball at the blameless Matt laPorte.
Normally in the major leagues, after a Schierholtz-type bit of gamesmanship, the next slugger knows he's going to cop one. A curve ball to the buttocks, take one for the team, get walked to first base, honours even....but the Chinese haven't grasped the etiquette, have they?
So, Laporte takes it square on the left ear, and goes down like a felled ox, as the crack on the helmet reverberates around the stadium. Lots more leaping about and arm waving later, Kun is sent off, as is the US assistant coach.
Laporte winds up in hospital having a precautionary scan, and the game peters out.
The last laugh goes to the wronged catcher, Yang, who clonks the only home run of the game in the ninth to bring the crowd back to its feet and the match to its inevitable close.
So a win to the USA, but further proof that China, in all things, are catching up quickly.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites