The Cuban baseball team will go for gold once again, having beaten the United States 10-2 to reach the Olympic championship game.
Alexei Bell hit a three-run homer in the eighth to put the punctuation mark on the defending champions' 10-2 victory over the Americans on Friday night that put the Cubans in the title game again. He raised his hand to signal No. 1 while rounding the bases, then Ariel Pestano added his own three-run shot three batters later to seal it.
Cuba (7-1) will play unbeaten South Korea (8-0) on Saturday, while the U.S. will face Japan for bronze in the first game of the day. South Korea rallied to beat the Japanese 6-2 in Friday's first semifinal.
Alfredo Despaigne hit his second homer against the Americans this tournament and Frederich Cepeda also connected. Anything less than gold will be considered a failure for the Cubans, who have won three of the previous four Olympic tournaments since baseball became a medal sport in 1992.
Former dictator Fidel Castro's son, Antonio, is even taking part in this memorable run _ as team doctor. After the final out, the Cubans celebrated mildly on the mound after another methodical win.
Cuba finished runner-up to the U.S. in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics before winning again four years later in Athens. Winning gold in China might mean even more to the tiny Caribbean country, considering that baseball will come off the Olympic program for the 2012 London Games and might not be back.
Cuba also received a big boost from Hector Olivera, who earned the start at first base in place of Alexander Malleta. Cuban manager Antonio Pacheco benched Malleta after he said he was playing with a hurt wrist and blamed the injury for his struggles.
Olivera, making only his second appearance of the tournament, put Cuba ahead 2-0 in the third. He hit an RBI triple and then scored after second baseman Brian Barden took the cutoff and threw wildly past third for an error. The Americans' defensive miscues hurt them in their two previous Olympic losses.
Cuba starter Norge Luis Vera pitched six strong innings, allowing only one earned run and two hits. Imposing reliever Pedro Lazo followed and was nearly as impressive in three scoreless innings, earning a save.
Matt Brown had a sacrifice fly in the fourth and the Americans (5-3) scored an unearned run in the fifth. Second baseman Yuliesky Gourriel backpedaled to try to make a play on Lou Marson's shallow fly ball and Bell, the right fielder, had also charged in on it and the ball dropped between them.
Other than that, Cuba was spot on.
This was an anticipated rematch of Cuba's 5-4, 11-inning victory on Aug. 15 in which Jayson Nix of the U.S. fouled a ball off his left eye and needed microsurgery to repair the wound. He hasn't played since.
Afterward, U.S. manager Davey Johnson accused Lazo of purposely throwing at Nix's head, yet Lazo and the Cubans vehemently denied it and Johnson later softened his stance.
This time, Bell got the first hit off U.S. starter Stephen Strasburg with one out in the second, just beating out an infield single with the pitcher covering first. But Bell was thrown out trying to steal second moments later.
Johnson pushed back Strasburg's scheduled Wednesday start against Japan in the finale of the preliminary round so the hard-throwing right-hander could go in a more important game.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Strasburg, the probable No. 1 pick in next year's Major League Baseball draft, dazzled in his Olympic debut but wasn't nearly as sharp and faced trouble in three of his four innings. In his previous outing, he carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and struck out 11 in the Americans' 7-0, rain-shortened victory over the Netherlands on Aug. 14.
Cuba was on a roll, too, coming off a 17-1 rout of China on Wednesday in which the Cubans pounded 20 hits.
Wukesong Stadium was nearly full except for a few open seats in the outfield bleachers. Cuba's fans emphatically chanted of "Let's go Cuba!" over and over in Chinese, standing to clap and wave their flag. They even had their share of supporters from China.