At the bottom of the Pile of bodies at Chamshil Baseball Stadium last Wednesday were the two heroes of the U.S. team's 5-3 victory over Japan in the final of the last Olympics at which baseball will be only a demonstration sport. One was Jim Abbott, the left-handed pitcher who went the distance, and the other was first baseman Tino Martinez, who hit a two-run homer to put the U.S. ahead 2-1 in the fourth, a run-scoring single in the fifth and a solo homer in the eighth. Martinez's bat was smoking, which was only natural for someone whose family owns the Villazon cigar company in Tampa. "Every one of the 250,000 cigars we'll produce today will be a victory cigar," said his father, Rene. "Maybe we'll even make a special Olympic gold medal cigar."
The victory helped restore some American pride, coming as it did shortly after the U.S. basketball team lost to the underdog Soviet Union. In baseball the Americans were the underdogs. Not only did Japan beat the U.S. for the gold in '84, but it also won four games out of seven against the Americans this summer. And in Seoul the Japanese breezed through the round-robin preliminaries, while the U.S. lost one to Canada 8-7.
Japan sent its best pitcher, Takehiro Ishii, against Abbott, but Ishii was working with only a day's rest and left shortly after Martinez's first homer. Abbott ran into trouble in the sixth, when the Japanese scored twice, but thereafter he rediscovered his groove.
The final out was a grounder to third, and as soon as Martinez gloved the ball, he rushed into Abbott's arms. "I don't know how anything can top this," said Martinez, who has been signed by the Seattle Mariners. "The nicest part will be running into Jimmy or the other guys in major league parks the next few years. We'll look at each other and smile and share in the moment again."
Give that man a cigar. Heck, give him 250,000 cigars.