Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) 7, China 8


in 12

10:30 PM ET
August 14, 2008

China shocks Taiwan thanks to 12th-inning rally

Updated: August 20, 2008, 11:21 PM ET

BEIJING (Reuters) -- China, playing its first Olympic baseball, beat old hands Taiwan 8-7 in a game that went into extra innings and stopped work in Taipei as incredulous fans watched events unfold on television.

The game was so important that Taiwan's baseball chief had offered to resign if his team, officially named "Chinese Taipei" because of political sensitivities with China, lost. Other heads could roll as well, he said ahead of the Olympics.

"It's going to be a big shock, because never in history has Taiwan's team lost to mainland China in international play," said Chao Chien-min, a political science professor at National Chengchi University.

"China doesn't like baseball," Chao said. "For a long time we thought we had an advantage."

A Taiwan Olympic committee official declined to discuss the loss shortly after the game.

China has claimed sovereignty over tiny, self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

Beijing's "one China" policy, recognised by the vast majority of countries around the world, is that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it. Taiwan is recognised by just a handful of countries, hence the name "Chinese Taipei".

Chinese players played down any political symbolism.

"We won a game, and the last thing I want to do is talk about politics," said China coach James Lefebvre.

Taiwan's baseball team narrowly clinched a berth in the Olympics during qualifiers in March.

The sport represents one of Taiwan's few medal hopes at the 2008 Games and a rare chance to shine globally.

China, which qualified for the Olympics as host, forbids Taiwan from participating in many other international events that require statehood as a prerequisite.

"Taiwan has more than 30 years of baseball history, so it's a mature sport, and for China it's just starting," said Taiwan fan John Hou. "This victory should be ours."

Taiwan won silver in baseball at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 but failed to qualify for the next two Games before finishing fifth in Athens four years ago.

Fans from both sides waved plastic batons and loudly cheered on their teams from different pockets of the crowd. But they behaved respectfully, even cheering for one another when catchable foul balls went into the stands.