SINCE SOFTBALL became an Olympic sport in 1996, the three gold medal games have had two things in common: The U.S. was victorious, and Lisa Fernandez was on the mound. But when the 15-player U.S. roster for Beijing was announced last week, Fernandez wasn't listed, so if the Yanks make it four in a row this summer, they'll have to do it without the 37-year-old Californian. "It's like Michael Jordan getting cut from the basketball team," said catcher Stacey Nuveman.
Fernandez took three years off to start a family after the U.S. won gold in Athens (she and her husband, Michael, a special-ed teacher, have a two-year-old son, Antonio), and she never quite regained her form. She has been pitching for the U.S. during its pre-Olympic tour. (The U.S. lost 1--0 to Virginia Tech last Wednesday, as Hokies pitcher Angela Tincher tossed a no-hitter. It was the first loss for the U.S. in a pre-Olympic game since 1996, a span of 185 games in which the U.S. outscored its opponents 1,475--24.) "I have no regrets," Fernandez said. "I know I gave it everything I had. There wasn't a corner cut or a practice missed. I just ran out of time."