This is not a good start for Team USA.
Four years after being left at home, out of the Olympics, the U.S. returned to Olympics action on Wednesday morning. It didn’t go well. After trailing for most of the game, the U.S. scored three runs in the top of the ninth to stay alive, but South Korea rallied for two runs off of U.S. closer Jeff Stevens (Indians) in the bottom of the ninth to pull out an 8-7 win.
Stevens came in after the rest of the U.S. bullpen pitched flawlessly, throwing 4 2/3 perfect innings. Things didn’t go as easily for Stevens. He gave up a leadoff double to Keun Woo Jeong to start the ninth. A ground out advanced Lee to third, and he then scored on a Taek Keun Lee grounder to second baseman Jayson Nix (Rockies). Nix tried to come home to gun out Jeong, but his throw was well off the plate to the first-base side. Before throwing another pitch, Stevens tried to pick off Lee, but the throw was wild, allowing Lee to advance to third on a two-base error. Jeon Wook Lee drove his fellow Lee in with the winning run on a sacrifice fly to center field.
Matt Brown (Angels) hit a two-run single with two out in the ninth that kept Korea from an earlier celebration. Mike Hessman (Tigers) homered to lead off the ninth to cut Korea’s lead to 6-5, and Taylor Teagarden and Brian Barden followed with a single and double to put runners at second and third with no outs. But John Gall struck out and Nix popped out to second base, putting the pressure on Brown. He came throw with a single over the South Korean shortstop’s head, giving the U.S. its first lead since it lead 1-0 heading into the top of the second.
U.S. starter Brandon Knight (Mets) gave up six runs and 10 baserunners in 4 1/3 innings, as manager Dave Johnson gave him a lot of chances to work out of jams. Former Braves prospect Jung Keun Bong held the U.S. to three runs in 5 1/3 innings, but the pitching star for Korea was sidearmer Tae Hyong Chown, who struck out six in 2 2/3 innings.
While the loss is a surprising one for the U.S., this year’s Olympic format ensures that it’s not a crushing defeat. The U.S. will face the seven other teams in round-robin play. At the end of the round robin, the top four teams will advance to the semifinals. Even if the U.S. were to lose to Cuba and Japan in upcoming games, it could ensure its advance to the medal round by winning its other four remaining games.
In other games (which we’ll wrap up shortly), Cuba beat Yu Darvish and Japan 4-2, while Canada run-ruled host China 10-0 and Taiwan beat the Netherlands 5-0.