South Korea 3, Cuba 2

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6:00 AM ET
August 23, 2008

South Korea beats Cuba, finishes Olympic tourney unbeaten

Updated: August 23, 2008, 4:49 PM ET

BEIJING -- Campeones no more. There's a new champion in Olympic baseball: the surprising, gutsy South Koreans.

South Korea captured gold 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 final of the Beijing Games.

South Korea

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

South Korea celebrated its gold medal in baseball by throwing manager Kim Kyung-moon in the air.

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

Cuba and Japan were widely considered the favorites coming into these games, but the U.S. beat Japan 8-4 to take the bronze medal.

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.

"Tonight we faced a good pitcher. He was really tough on the batters," said Cuba manager Antonio Pacheco. "And the last situation in the ninth inning, we were not able to execute. But that's baseball."

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 again in 1996.

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 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.

"I stood in the field tonight and had one goal in my mind. That was to win a gold medal," said Ryu, who beat Canada 1-0 with a complete-game five-hitter during round-robin play. "I wanted to perform well throughout the game but at the end of [the top of] the ninth inning, I felt a little bit nervous."

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 waving small and large 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.

"The things that we lacked were, in particular, hitting," said Cuban relief pitcher Pedro Ruiz Lazo, who had to settle for the silver medal after being in the gold medal-winning teams of Cuba in 1996 and 2004 as well as a silver in 2000.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.