Jake Arrieta
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Jake Arrieta and the Olympics

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Fans of the Olympics searching for a team to root for in the MLB playoffs should look no further than the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs, in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, seeking their first World Series title since 1908 and set to play at the Pittsburgh Pirates in a wild-card game Wednesday, have three U.S. Olympic bronze medalists on their roster.

Pitchers Jake Arrieta and Trevor Cahill and outfielder Dexter Fowler were on the 24-man 2008 U.S. team that finished third in Beijing, the Olympic curtain call for baseball.

MLB never stopped its season for an Olympic break — like the NHL does — so the Beijing team was made up of 23 minor leaguers and Stephen Strasburg, then a rising junior at San Diego State.

Note Arrieta, who ranked second in the majors in ERA this season (1.77), including a 0.75 ERA and 12-1 record in 15 starts since the All-Star Game. Arrieta, 29, is slated to start the wild-card game Wednesday.

Arrieta was actually more dominant at the Olympics, where he was the only minor leaguer on the U.S. who hadn’t yet reached a double-A league. He made one appearance and threw six shutout innings in Beijing, two years before his MLB debut with the Baltimore Orioles.

“One thing about pitchers, if they can throw a couple pitches in the strike zone, they could be at A-ball one day and the next day in the big leagues,” U.S. Olympic team manager Davey Johnson said in 2008, according to MLB.com. “He’s kind of intimidating. He can look at you like you don’t want to mess with him in a dark alley.”

Arrieta’s lone Olympic start came in a memorable 9-1 pool-play win against China that included hit batters and ejections.

In the fifth inning, top Chinese player and then-Seattle Mariners catching prospect Wang Wei was knocked out of the game in a glancing home-plate collision with U.S. outfielder Matt LaPorta.

In the sixth, Wang’s replacement took a direct hit from outfielder Nate Schierholtz trying to score on a sacrifice fly, the catcher’s helmet flying off.

China manager Jim Lefebvre (a former Cubs manager) took issue with the rough play, complained to umpires and was ejected.

In the seventh, LaPorta was hit in the head by a pitch, exited the game and was diagnosed with a mild concussion. LaPorta did play later in the tournament.

In the ninth, China’s backup catcher smacked a solo home run off a relief pitcher, circled the bases with his right index finger held high and stomped on home plate. The run reduced the U.S. lead to 9-1.

The U.S. lost to Cuba in the semifinals and beat Japan in the bronze-medal game.

Arrieta also conversed with then-U.S. president George W. Bush while in Beijing. They’re both Texans.

“I was shocked to meet him at first and a little nervous,” Arrieta said, according to USA Baseball. “My family is going to be jealous, and it is something I’ll remember for a long time.”

Baseball was voted out of the 2012 Olympics in 2005 and came up short in bids to return for future Olympics. Its next attempt, to return for Tokyo 2020, will be decided by August.

MORE BASEBALL: The Olympic All-Star baseball team

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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