Flashback: Canada qualifies for 2008 Olympics

James Avery (Moose Jaw, Sask.), above, allowed one run in four innings, and Scott Richmond, (North Vancouver, B.C.)  tossed four scoreless as Canada upset Korea to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. ....   

By Bob Elliott

It was not an ordinary bus that lurched to a stop in front of the Howard Prince Hotel before midnight yesterday in Taichung, Chinese Taipei.

It was the other side of the world and as the sweaty, red-and-white clad passengers disembarked, they broke into O Canada.

A 4-3 upset win over previously unbeaten Korea, qualified Team Canada for the Beijing Olympics. The win gave the Canadians a 5-1 record in the eight-team round-robin tournament with a meaningless game against Germany on the schedule today. Korea and the host Taipei will be joining Canada at the Summer Games in August.

The Canadian choir, conducted by Mike Kusiewicz of Ottawa and led by Stubby Clapp of Windsor and Calgary’s Ryan Radmanovich, had belted out the anthem four times on the ride from the Intercontinental Stadium.

“Taiwanese fans were outside the hotel waiting for autographs,” said catcher Chris Robinson of Dorchester. “We rocked the anthem, but after a game and all the singing, we didn’t have much of a voice left. We weren’t that good.”

They were pretty good at baseball, however. Robinson caught starter James Avery, of Moose Jaw, Sask., who allowed one run in four innings, and Scott Richmond, of Langley, B.C., who tossed four scoreless.

Korea scored two in the ninth and had the tying run on first base when Canadian manager Terry Puhl brought in Kusiewicz for the final out. He picked up his second save on three pitches.

“Strike one, strike two, check swing back to the mound,” Robinson said.

Radmanovich pulled out a Canadian flag, then he and Clapp led a victory lap.

“This was more special than when we qualified in Panama for Greece,” Clapp said. “That was the very first time and Team USA didn’t make it.

“Some of us felt cheated when we didn’t medal in Athens. We owed something to the kids coming to get back.”

Justin Morneau and Pierre LaForest slugged Canada to the 2004 Olympics, with a roster which had 1,020 games of big-league experience. This team had 56 games in the bigs: Clapp (28), Radmanovich (27) and Steve Green (one).

Jimmy Van Ostrand of Richmond, B.C., Nick Weglarz of Stevensville, Victoria’s Mike Saunders and Matt Rogelstad of New Westminster, B.C., were the stud hosses.

Going into the round-robin finale, Van Ostrand was batting .600 (9-for-15) with eight RBIs.

Weglarz, who hit his second homer against Korea, was batting .500 with six RBIs. Saunders batted .238, but drove in five. Rogelstad hit a three-run homer against Korea.

“This is a much younger team than the last time,” said Team Canada general manager Greg Hamilton. “We’re in transition. So many young players were contributors and we had the right veteran leadership.”

Clapp hit .471 and drove in five in the first half dozen games while Radmanovich batted .438 with four RBIs. It wasn’t easy, especially after losing 10-6 to Australia last Sunday.

“We knew we were a better team than they were,” said outfielder Adam Stern of Port Stanley.

The following day, Canada was trailing 5-4 to Chinese Taipei with two out in the ninth -- in front of 25,000 chanting fans -- when Clapp hit a chopper over the mound. The infielder double-pumped as Clapp slid in safely head first.

A strike away from losing, Saunders then singled home Clapp on a 3-2 pitch and Canada went on to win in extras.

The game saw the benches empty in the eighth. Van Ostrand crashed into the catcher as he was being thrown out at the plate for the third out. The catcher flipped the ball at the Canadian base-runner.

That prompted a mild confrontation, but the fireworks were lit when the Taipei right fielder picked up the loose ball and threw it into the Canadian dugout, early hitting pitching coach Denis Boucher

Boucher raced at the right fielder and benches cleared.

“We all went to back up Denis,” Stern said. “We’re Canadian and we don’t take that.”

The upset of Korea -- which twice has defeated World Baseball Classic champion Japan -- was particularly sweet.

“To medal,” Stern said, “we have to beat them.”

Since the Olympics end Aug. 24 and don’t overlap with the Sept. 1 major-league, callup date, Canada will field an even stronger team than it did in Greece. Starters will throw seven innings rather than four.

On the 20-minute ride to the hotel following the Korea game, the bus and police escort stopped so the victors could celebrate in a Canadian way -- with beer.

Richmond said: “We cleaned the place out of Taiwan beer.”

“In front of the hotel, singing, you could see patriotism in our guys,” Clapp said. “That’s why it’s an honour to play for your country.”