Team USA routs Taiwan, gears up for Cuba


BOWIE -- Team USA is in the final week of a grueling 13-city, 35-game tour. But to Team USA first baseman Travis Lee, the true baseball tour is four games and doesn't start until Saturday.

That's when Team USA plays powerhouse Cuba at the U.S. baseball training facility in Millington, Tenn. The past six weeks, including yesterday's 10-2 victory over Taiwan before 548 at Prince George's County Stadium, were relatively meaningless to Lee.

"All these games are practice to us," Lee said. "It's great to win, but it's all about building up to Cuba. We've had meetings about this. We're playing just to beat them. I think if we win one game from them, it would be a great accomplishment."

Team USA (23-6) has shown signs of peaking for the Cuba series. It extended its longest winning streak of the tour to eight games, and continues to pound the ball.

For the third straight game, Team USA produced double-digit totals in runs and hits, and scored its runs in clumps. And the center of that production is cleanup hitter Lee.

He single-handedly lifted Team USA to victory yesterday with a team single-game high of five RBIs. Lee also ended a 27-game homerless stretch -- the longest on the team -- with a three-run shot in the fifth inning, capping a four-run rally and putting Team USA ahead 7-1.

Lee, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore from San Diego State, has the size and bat speed to be a dangerous home run hitter. Instead, he lines the ball to all parts of the field, fitting into Team USA's hitting philosophy, and has only two homers this season.

"He is one of our top home run hitters," said manager Skip Berkman, joking that Team USA has no player with more than three home runs. "But he's a good player for the No. 4 hole on this team. He drives in runs and hits for average. Plus, he's one of the top competitors on this team."

During Team USA's win streak, Lee is hitting .531 (17-for-32) with 13 RBIs. He leads Team USA in batting (.438), RBIs (30) and total bases (59).

"I know I look like I should hit for power, but that's not part of my game yet," Lee said. "I look to hit the ball in the gaps. It seems when either I or someone else starts hitting, it becomes contagious and the whole team comes around."

Saying that the hitting has come around is an understatement. PTC Team USA is batting .300 as a team and has averaged six runs per game.

Come Saturday, it will need all that offense and maybe more.

"I think over the past few weeks, everyone has come to think that the Cuba series is what we have been playing all season for," center fielder Jacque Jones said. "This is really big and we know that. Our goal is to be at the top, and soon we'll see how we stand."

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