Sun, Aug 24, 2008 - Page 19 News List

BASEBALL: S Korea beat Cuba to win improbable baseball gold


South Korea captured the gold medal and capped a perfect and improbable Olympic run with the country’s biggest win yet in international baseball, a 3-2 victory over defending champion Cuba last night in the championship of the Beijing Games.

Far from flashy and just plain steady all tournament long, the South Koreans (9-0) pulled off an impressive win over the mighty Cubans in what will long be remembered as an upset in baseball’s last Olympic hurrah for at least eight years.

Reliever Chong Tae-hyon got Yuliesky Gourriel to ground into a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded to end it after a drama-filled ninth inning.

Cuba (7-2), the perennial world powerhouse and lone representative from baseball-crazed Latin America in the eight-team Olympic field, dropped only two games in China — both to the first-time gold medalists.

The other favorite going into the Olympics, Japan, lost 8-4 to the US earlier yesterday, giving the Americans the bronze.

South Korean reliever Chong Tae-hyon got Yuliesky Gourriel to ground into a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded to end it after a dramatic ninth inning.

Lee Seung-yuop gave his team the lead on a two-run homer in the first inning and Lee Yong-kyu added an RBI double in the seventh, helping South Korea become the first unbeaten Olympic baseball champion since Cuba in 1992 and 1996.

The Cubans loaded the bases in the ninth against South Korea starter Ryu Hyun-jin, who allowed Hector Olivera’s leadoff single and walked Fredrich Cepeda one out later. Alexei Bell drew a walk and South Korean catcher Kang Min-ho vehemently argued the call before being ejected by home plate umpire Carlos Rey Cotto of Puerto Rico. Kang angrily threw his mask, a ball and then his glove into the dugout.

South Korea skipper Kim Kyung-moon then sent Chong to the mound to face Gourriel, who chopped an 0-2 pitch for a grounder to shortstop Park Jin-man. The South Koreans erupted in a pile of red and white on the mound, throwing their manager into the air before taking a victory lap around Wukesong Stadium while waving flags.

Cuba wanted nothing more than to leave with another Olympic title, but now must instead turn its attention toward next spring’s second World Baseball Classic. The Cubans lost to Japan in the final of the inaugural event in 2006.

Baseball comes off the program for the 2012 London Games and there’s no guarantee it will return in 2016 despite the campaigning of the sport’s international federation and support from Major League Baseball.

Lee Yong-kyu’s seventh-inning double came off the Cubans’ best reliever, Pedro Lazo — the same pitcher who had thrown three scoreless innings during a 10-2 rout of the US team on Friday.

Lee Young-kyu pumped both arms at his sides after reaching second, then threw his hands into the air in delight calling for more noise from his cheering countrymen in the right-field seats.

Lazo was done and manager Antonio Pacheco put Cuba’s hopes on the shoulders of Luis Rodriguez.

For the South Koreans, this victory provided a big bonus, as 14 of their players had already secured a medal and an exemption from mandatory military service with Friday’s 6-2 semi-final victory over Japan. By law, the South Korean government exempts male athletes who earn any medal in the Olympics from the approximately two years of required duty.

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