Bronx Baby Bombers win consolation
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) -- For an instant in the sixth inning, Danny Almonte's shoulders slumped and his head bowed. He had just allowed a runner to score on a wild pitch -- the first run scored on Almonte since Little League tournament play began in July.
Then it was back to business, first a 1-3 fielder's choice, then a strikeout to end the game, and Almonte's Rolando Paulino team from the Bronx, N.Y., had beaten Willemstad, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles 9-1 for third place Sunday in the Little League World Series.
If Almonte had slipped from the perfection he showed earlier in the tournament -- he did allow two hits against Curacao -- it was hard to tell. His 14 strikeouts brought his tournament total to 46.
That followed a one-hit shutout in the against Oceanside, Calif., in the U.S. semifinals and a perfect game -- the first in 44 years at the Little League World Series -- against Apopka, Fla., in pool play.
"I think he's the hardest Little Leaguer I've seen throw," said Orel Hershiser, a Cy Young winner who helps call the Little League World Series for ABC Sports and ESPN. "Pitching is location first and foremost, then movement and velocity. He's got all three."
Along the way, he captured the imagination of Little Leaguers and Major Leaguers alike. Attendance at Saturday's U.S. final, when the Bronx fell 8-2 in a rematch with Apopka, was estimated at 42,000, the highest ever for a U.S. championship game.
Even President Bush singled out Almonte for attention, telling him during Sunday night's championship game that he hoped to one day see him pitch in the major leagues.
"He said he was very proud to have talked to the president," said Rolando Paulino, president of Almonte's league.
When Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson, a.k.a. the "Big Unit," learned that teammates had nicknamed Almonte the "Little Unit," Johnson sent an autographed ball and a note of encouragement. When Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. learned he was Almonte's favorite player, Griffey called to talk with Almonte.
A shy 12-year-old who speaks little English, Almonte would only say that he was proud that his heroes in the majors would take an interest in him. He was more interested in talking about the game.
"I feel great," Almonte said. "This is my first time to represent the United States, and it feels great."
Bronx (5-1) scored six runs in the fifth inning, five off home runs by Santo Sierra and Carlos Garcia and Rolando Torres' score on a wild pitch. Sierra's homer to left field scored Reynaldo Guava and Johnelvis Ortiz. Garcia's right-field homer scored Almonte.
Torres scored on a passed ball in the second inning to give Rolando Paulino a 3-0 lead. Torres reached base on an RBI double that scored Santo Sierra. Almonte hit an RBI single in the first inning that scored Tommy Guzman.
Argentis Daal scored the only run on Almonte in the tournament, hitting a single to center field, advancing on a fielder's choice and scoring on a wild pitch.
"We don't worry about that," said Bronx manager Alberto Gonzalez. "We don't care about records or perfect games. We just want to win."
Dinyor Antonia had Curacao's first hit, a grounder to center field in the third inning.
Overlooked was Almonte's skill at center field and at the plate, where he hit .471 for the tournament, including 3-of-4 on Sunday.
And while Almonte got the most attention, the Bronx was far from a one-man team. Rolando Torres pitched a shutout against Bainbridge, Wash., in pool play, Garcia finished with two home runs and Guzman batted .500 for the tournament. And when a ball did get past one of the Bronx pitchers, their defense was sharp.
Apopka's win on Saturday robbed Almonte and the Bronx of their chance to play in the championship in front of a prime-time audience, but they said they had no regrets.
"We won most of our games, and I loved every minute of being here," Garcia said.