China's Baseball Squad Crosses a Line in Match against USA

Matthew IrbySenior Analyst IAugust 19, 2008

This is very likely the last Olympics to include baseball and softball, unless representatives of both sports can mount a sufficient argument to return in the 2016 Games. They need to be putting their best foot forward and show the world why they should be reinstated.

Monday night that step forward, went backward.

Team USA (3-2), looking to move to within a win of making the medal round, faced off against China (1-4). Through four innings, the game went on without any major problems. Team USA led 1-0 and both teams had two batters hit by pitches, but not with any intent.

Things changed in the fifth, however. Team USA notched three more runs, highlighted by a two-RBI double from Texas Rangers prospect Taylor Teagarden. Baltimore Orioles prospect Matt LaPorta was attempting to score from first on the double and collided with Chinese catcher Wei Wang, prospect for the Seattle Mariners.

Waiting for the ball to come in from right field, Wang was blocking the front left side of the plate when LaPorta slid hard into Wang, scoring the fourth run of the game. Wang had to leave the game with an injured left leg and back-up catcher Yang Yang replaced him.

On the very next pitch Jason Donald was beaned for the second time in that game. He was the third American batter hit by a pitch.

This was the point at which home plate umpire Edwin van der Berk (Netherlands) could have warned both teams.  With five batters hit by pitches and a collision at the plate, van der Berk could have regained control of the game right then and there, but he said nothing.

In the next half inning on the first pitch from China's newest pitcher Kun Chen, Team USA's right fielder Nate Schierholtz was drilled in the back.

Schierholtz fired his bat toward the dugout in frustration, but took his base without a word.  Then again the umpiring crew could have warned both teams and regained control, but they stood by quietly.

After a Matt Brown double, Terry Tiffee hit a fly ball to centerfield, and Schierholtz headed for home after the catch.

Again the Chinese catcher blocked the front side of the plate and, with the ball coming in for a bang-bang play, Schierholtz lowered his shoulder and nailed the catcher. Yang went flying, the ball rolled by, and Schierholtz scored to give the US a 5-0 lead.

Yang popped up and had a few words for Schierholtz as he walked by. Schierholtz responded and pointed at the plate, and then Yang had to be restrained by his teammates.

China's manager Jeff Lefebvre stormed out of the dugout yelling and arguing that Schierholtz should be thrown out of the game for the hit. Lefebvre even voiced his opinion to Team USA manager Davey Johnson.

After a few moments, home plate umpire van der Berk finally acted and ejected Lefebvre from the game.

It finally seemed as though the drama had reached its climax, but then came the seventh inning.

On the first pitch of the inning, Chen drilled LaPorta with a fastball to the head and he went down hard. This brought Johnson out of his dugout yelling and arguing, both to protect his players and to make clear that the umpiring crew had allowed this game to get out of hand.

While the medical staff checked on LaPorta, who would leave under his own power, the umpiring crew huddled together to discuss and eventually eject Chen from the game along with assistant coach Steven Ontiveros.

LaPorta was taken to an area hospital where it was later reported that he had suffered a mild concussion. He will be listed as day-to-day for the rest of the Olympics.

After these events, the game calmed down until the bottom of the ninth inning when China's catcher Yang stroked a solo home run. It was China's only run of the game.

While trotting around the bases Yang held his fist up high celebrating, and when he crossed home plate he stomped his foot down.

The game ended with a 9-1 Team USA win.



The umpiring crew had multiple chances to regain control of this game, first after both teams had beaned one another twice, again after the first collision at home, and a third time after Donald was hit by the next pitch.

But since they kept quiet and did nothing, the game got further out of hand.

China crossed the line with the beaning of LaPorta in the head.  Whether or not you agree with the unwritten rules of baseball, you don't throw at a batter's head.

After the game Lefebvre told reporters that he was not throwing at LaPorta and that it's not taught in China or America.

Well, Jeff, then you're more naive than I thought. Yes, it does occur, and yes, managers tell pitchers to do this. It's a part of baseball whether you like it or not.

Anyone who has played in the higher levels of baseball will tell you that this occurs, but still you never throw at a batter's head.  Hit him in the back, let him take his base, and that's it. Done deal.

Finally, my biggest "beef" was with the back-up catcher, Yang, celebrating a solo home run in the ninth inning in an eventual 9-1 loss.

One day Yang might become a major league baseball prospect and if he does I wish him the best of luck.

But if you perform those same stunts in MLB, one of two things is going to happen. Either a catcher like A.J. Pierzynski is going to deck you as you cross home plate, or you're going to get a Randy Johnson 99 mph fastball behind your head.

This game did not go well for baseball's push to re-instate baseball into the Olympics of 2016.  But hopefully I have shown that this game, which got a little out-of-hand, could have gone a lot smoother with some better umpiring and that throwing at a batter's head is totally crossing the line.