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Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008


S. Korea edges Cuba in title game

Staff writer

BEIJING — The South Korea baseball team waited eight years to return to the Olympics. It will need to wait at least eight more years to defend its title.

South Korea survived Cuba's valiant comeback effort in the ninth inning but held on for a 3-2 victory in the Beijing Games championship contest at Wukesong Baseball Field on Saturday.

Cuba failed to defend its Olympic title and earn its fourth gold. Instead, the Cubans picked up their second silver.

South Korea (9-0) became the third team in Olympic history to go undefeated during a baseball tournament.

Yomiuri Giants slugger Lee Seung Yeop smacked a two-run home run to left off Cuban lefty Norberto Gonzalez in the first inning to put South Korea ahead 2-0. He had struggled offensively in the Olympics, going 4-for-26 (.154) before his pivotal homer.

In the same inning, Cuba's Michel Enriquez drilled a two-out solo blast to trim the South Korean lead in half.

Gonzalez and his southpaw counterpart, Ryu Hyun Jin, kept the teams' offenses in check over the next several innings.

In the sixth, with South Korea still leading by 2-1, Lee Yong Kyu reached on a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Cuba manger Antonio Pacheco brought in veteran right-hander Pedro Luis Lazo, a four-time Olympian with the most all-time saves (four) in Summer Games history, to face Lee Seung Yeop, who flew out to center.

Lazo issued a walk to Kim Dong Joo to put runners at first and second, but Lee Dae Ho hit a flyout to end the inning.

In the seventh, South Korea added an insurance run on Lee Yong Kyu's two-out double off Lazo.

In the bottom of the seventh, Alexei Bell, who entered the championship game with a .518 batting average in the tournament, blasted a two-out homer to left-center to pull Cuba within 3-2.

Cuba's Hector Oliveira slapped a leadoff single to left in the ninth. Enriquez stepped into the batter's box as Cuba's boisterous fans voiced their support. Enriquez moved Oliveira into scoring position on a sacrifice.

Then Ryu issued a base on balls to Pacheco, giving Cuba the potential tying and winning runs on base when Bell stepped into the batter's box.

Ryu challenged Bell with fastballs and had a pitcher's count in his favor, 1-2 as Cuban fans raised their cheering levels to a higher volume. Then it was 2-2 on an outside fastball, then 3-2 as Bell regrouped and waited for a pitch to make contact with. He didn't get it. Ball four, a low outside fastball, came first, to load the bases.

Ryu's night ended after the walk.

His fate and the team's gold medal hopes then rested on the shoulders of submarine reliever Chong Tae Hyon, who entered the game to face Yuliesky Gouriel, who was 0-for-3 at that point.

Gouriel didn't swing at Chong's first two pitches, quickly getting into an 0-2 hole. He swung at the third one and hit into a game-ending, championship clinching 6-4-3 double play.

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