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Going deep -- for memories

TORONTO -- Last night, Doug Mientkiewicz was on call as the Red Sox' emergency catcher in case calamity befell Doug Mirabelli, raising the uncomfortable specter of the one-time minor league catcher trying to corral Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. He escaped that duty, serving only as a pinch runner and defensive replacement at first base for Kevin Millar in last night's 5-4 win over the Blue Jays.

But as daunting as the prospect of handling Wakefield sounded, it still paled in comparison to the one Mientkiewicz faced four years ago, when he was in the Sydney Olympics with an unheralded USA baseball team charged with the task of beating powerful Cuba. Team USA, whose biggest star was its manager, Tom Lasorda, did just that, shutting out the Cubans, 4-0, in the gold-medal game. Mientkiewicz, then a struggling rookie with the Minnesota Twins, hit two dramatic home runs on the way to the final, one a grand slam to break a scoreless tie against South Korea in the preliminary round, the other a bottom-of-the-ninth stunner to beat South Korea in the semifinal game.

"Tommy took an already confident group and made us feel invincible," said Mientkiewicz, who was among the Sox players gathered around clubhouse televisions when Cuba held off Canada yesterday to advance to today's gold-medal showdown. The Cubans will face Australia, a team coached by former Lowell Spinners manager Jon Deeble and with a first baseman, Craig Lewis, who plays for the Brockton Rox.

"For a guy who didn't know our names, he did a good job coaching us," said Mientkiewicz.

What did the septuagenarian Lasorda do, call everybody "Kid"?

"No," Mientkiewicz said. "He just called us the wrong names, all the time. One time, he took me out for a defensive replacement. I chased him up the tunnel.

" `Are you crazy?' I said. He said, `I meant the other guy.'

"But he gave us the face we needed, the notoriety. For me, he did a lot of things he didn't have to do to get my name back in Minneapolis. He did all the TV shows, he did all the radio shows. He built me up."

With no red, white, and blue stake in baseball, Mientkiewicz is pulling for the US women's soccer team, among others, to bring back the gold.

"I trained with Mia [Hamm] this winter in Arizona," said Mientkiewicz, who like Mr. Hamm [Nomar Garciaparra] trained at the Athletic Performance Institute in Tempe.

"I think they will [win]. It's their last hurrah together. It's amazing what great athletes together one last time, what they can accomplish.

"When Mia gets determined to do something, there's nobody better. I worked out with her all winter and she's more athletic than a lot of other professional athletes. She throws a better spiral than 10 of the quarterbacks in the NFL right now."

Trying experience

Outfielder Dave Roberts last night made just his fourth start since his July 31 trade from the Dodgers, his first start since Aug. 16. For much of the night, it was a trying experience.

Roberts, who played right and batted second, popped to catcher Gregg Zaun on a bunt attempt in the first inning. He drew a walk in the third, but then was improbably doubled off first on Manny Ramirez's line drive to left, Gabe Gross's strong throw to Carlos Delgado beating Roberts's slide back into the bag.

In the fifth, after fouling off a bunt attempt, he was ahead in the count, 3-and-1, but wound up whiffing on a 3-and-2 fastball on which he made a belated half-swing. He walked again in the sixth.

Roberts's presence in the lineup meant that Orlando Cabrera, who entered the game batting .444 (8 for 18) on the trip and had hit safely in his previous eight games, was dropped to sixth. Cabrera singled and doubled in going 2 for 4.

Ortiz staying put

Despite another 0 for 5 by David Ortiz, who is just 2 for 21 on the trip (one of the hits a winning home run against the White Sox Sunday), manager Terry Francona isn't inclined to flip-flop Ortiz again with Ramirez but he hasn't ruled it out.

"It's not like they're pitching around him, he's had some good situations to hit," Francona said of Ortiz. "He's just not getting the bat to the ball. He will. Mentally, I'll give you that, it can affect a guy, but we can't hit two guys third. I'm happy that we've got both, but we'll keep looking at it."

A Manny milestone

Last night was Ramirez's 1,500th career game in the majors, and he made it one worth remembering for another milestone when he drove home two runs with a fifth-inning single. It is the seventh straight season in which Ramirez has hit at least 30 home runs and knocked in at least 100 runs, putting him among select company: Only four other active players have done so: Sammy Sosa (9), Rafael Palmeiro (8), Delgado (6), and Alex Rodriguez (6). Those four are all in jeopardy of having their streaks end this season . . . Center fielder Johnny Damon, in an interview for NESN that will be aired tonight on the Globe "SportsPlus" show, reiterated that he has had vision problems since colliding with infielder Damian Jackson in the playoffs last October, and it has bothered him most in the field. Damon misjudged a liner to center in the fifth that was ruled a triple after it sailed over his head. Whatever vision issues he has are not showing up at the plate. Damon, who has topped 100 runs and 30 doubles in each of the last six seasons, entered the game with an on-base percentage of .380, just .002 below the career best .382 OBP he posted in Kansas City in 2000.

Left out

Before he picked up his 99th and 100th RBIs, Ramirez hit into the quirky double play that ended the third. With Ramirez at the plate, Roberts (on first with a walk) broke for an attempted steal. Ramirez ripped a Miguel Batista offering to left and Gross pocketed it just as Roberts steamed into second. Roberts popped up and raced back to first, but a perfect peg by Gross, and a nice one-hop catch by first baseman Delgado turned it into a rare 7-3 DP . . . Batista hurt himself with a wild pitch in the fifth with Ramirez at the plate, allowing Mark Bellhorn to move to third and Damon to second. On the next pitch, Ramirez knocked a single to right to plate the two runs . . . Blue Jays catcher Zaun got in a brief beef with plate umpire Tony Randazzo as the Sox were coming to bat in the third. Randazzo called Zaun out on strikes in the second -- on a pitch by Wakefield that looked high. Back in his catcher's gear, Zaun began what looked like a heated argument when he came out to his defensive spot, and Batista had to intercede. While Zaun cooled off, Jays skipper John Gibbons picked up the discussion with Randazzo, and play eventually started again without anyone getting tossed . . . Sox pitchers retired 20 straight Jays, dating back to Monday night, before Delgado led off the second with a walk . . . Technical difficulties left the Sox clubhouse absent its customary deafening music for a couple of minutes after the win. Not to worry, because ace Pedro Martinez ate up the silence with bizarre screams and yelps as he disappeared to the showers. No one was certain if it was Martinez's attempt to sing, or an audition for a cameo role in a Stephen King thriller. 

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