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South Korea wins improbable gold in baseball

South Korea wins improbable gold in baseball

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 on Saturday 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 United States earlier Saturday, 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 U.S. team 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 semifinal 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.
Michel Enriquez hit a solo homer in the bottom of the first and he was the only Cuban to reach base against the imposing Ryu until Alfredo Despaigne's two-out double in the fifth. Bell connected for a solo shot in the seventh.
Cuba was trying to win its fourth Olympic gold in the five baseball tournaments dating to 1992 in which baseball has been a medal sport.
South Korea's first victory over Cuba came on Tuesday, a 7-4 win in which the Cubans committed a two-run error in the fourth.
Cuba made a costly mistake in the gold medal game, too.
Lee Yong-kyu hit a shallow fly ball to center in the first that landed between the second baseman, shortstop and center fielder. One out later, Lee Seung-yuop hit a two-run homer.
Norberto Gonzalez had 1-2-3 innings in the second, third and fifth, then Cuba turned to Lazo with two outs and a runner on second in the sixth.
The burly right-hander worked out of that jam and retired the first two batters in the sixth before running into trouble.
Cuba's large crowd of supporters included a lively group of college students who received scholarships to study in China. Fans blew screeching horns from their seats along the third-base line, banged noisemakers and chanted and cheered for much of the game.