Finch retires after one last title
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Jennie Finch is closing out her international softball career as a champion.
Caitlin Lowe had a two-run triple, and the United States beat Japan 5-1 Monday night to win its fourth straight World Cup of Softball title in Finch's final game in red, white and blue.
Finch was pulled with two outs in the seventh and received a standing ovation as she headed into the dugout, stopping momentarily to wave to the crowd.
At 29, Finch decided to give up softball so she could spend more time with her family despite still being able to play at the highest level. She didn't allow a run in 18 2/3 innings at the World Cup, although she wasn't much of a factor in her final game.
Finch's teammates mobbed around her in a group hug after the final out.
"My career has been way more than I possibly ever could have dreamt of or imagined," Finch said. "I've been so incredibly blessed by this game, the people of this game. I can't say enough. I'm so grateful.
"And these fans, just amazing, incredible. They truly make it what it is. I'm just feeling so blessed at this moment."
A two-time Olympian and 2004 gold medalist, Finch developed into the most recognizable player in the sport after a standout career at Arizona that included the 2001 Women's College World Series title and an NCAA record 60 straight victories.
She went on to become a pop culture icon, striking out big league hitters on "This Week in Baseball" and making appearances on reality TV and late-night talk shows. At a time when the sport spread around the world with the help of the Olympics, Finch was known wherever the U.S. team went.
"I think sometimes you measure a person's success not on their accomplishments as much as how many lives they've touched," said Mike Candrea, her coach at Arizona and through two Olympics. "Jennie has transformed this sport, touched millions of young kids in many different ways -- whether it's fashion, whether it's the way she plays the game -- but through it all she's been very humble."
"She's become the face of this sport, and not many people could do that," he added. "It's hard to do."
Finch high-fived a group of fans who gathered at the gate from the practice area to the main field at Hall of Fame Stadium and then posed for a handful of pictures as she worked her way down the stairs to the diamond. After checking into the dugout, she paused again to smile for fans who had gathered behind the protective netting to snap more photos.
"I wanted us to get the last out and I wanted to play the last out, so I was like, 'Man, they took me out of the last out. I wish I could have been out there,' " Finch said. "I just wanted to close the deal and secure the World Cup back in the U.S."
A "27" -- Finch's jersey number -- was printed on the first base bag, and her teammates wore headbands similar to the trademark red, glittery one that Finch always dons. She was presented the rubber and a game ball from her three-hit shutout earlier in the day against a USA Futures squad made up of the best American players who didn't make the national team.
In making the presentation, Amateur Softball Association executive director Ron Radigonda said he hoped Finch would stay involved and help get the game back in the Olympics. It has been dropped from the 2012 and 2016 Games after being played in the previous four Olympics, with the U.S. winning gold three times.
Finch struck out 12 in her final start in the circle and allowed only three singles -- including two that didn't make it out of the infield. At the World Cup, she threw two shutouts and had a scoreless appearance in relief.
For the finale, she played first base and went 0 for 3. She was unable to duplicate her storybook start to the tournament, when she homered in her first at-bat after announcing her plan to retire.
She struck out looking on a nasty offspeed pitch, flied out to right field and grounded into a force out.
Jessica Mendoza put the U.S. on top with an RBI single in the first, and Lowe made it 3-0 with her two-run triple down the right-field line in the second.
Japan got its only run on Eri Yamada's two-out RBI single in the top of the third. The U.S. answered in the bottom of the inning when Kaitlin Cochran walked, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on second baseman Kasumi Mizoe's error taking a throw at first on Andrea Duran's bunt.
Finch is leaving to spend more time with her 4-year-old son, Ace, and continue adding to her family with husband Casey Daigle. Daigle, a pitcher who has split this season between the Houston Astros and Triple-A, was able to get away for her final game and join a contingent of family that also included Finch's 89-year-old grandmother.
She will continue playing professionally with the Chicago Bandits until the National Pro Fastpitch season ends next month.
"I'm sad, you know, but we just won the World Cup," Finch said. "We can't be too sad."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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