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Korea knocks off Japan; South Africa picks up first win

By John Manuel

Cuba 6, Team USA 1

Korea 7, Japan 6 (10 innings)

Korea's victory Saturday against Japan at Homebush Baseball Stadium couldn't have been much sweeter.

Korea (3-3) won its second straight game, 7-6 in 10 innings, in one of the best contests of the tournament. Meanwhile, Australia and the Netherlands, the other contenders for the fourth and final berth in the medal round, lost to the two worst teams in the eight-team field.

At the midway point of the tournament, Korea was battling injuries to its starting catcher and first baseman, and had lost nine of its last 11 Olympic baseball games dating back to the 1996 Atlanta Games. Now, despite an injury to ace pitcher Min-Tae Chung that forced him to leave the Japan game after one inning, they are in strong contention for a medal.

If the Koreans beat doormat South Africa on Sunday, they qualify for medal play. Even if it somehow loses to South Africa, Korea still could advance on a tiebreaker. And it got in this position by beating its archrival.

"From a very young age, our mentality is that we have to win against the Japanese," Korean manager Euong-Yong Kim said. "We used this mentality today. We'll have to see how the other teams do to get to the medal round."

Added first baseman Lee Seung-Yuop, who had a two-run homer off Japanese ace righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka: "Disregarding all losses to other teams, this game meant the most to us as a country."

Matsuzaka gave up just one run in his final eight innings, but dug himself a huge hole by giving up four runs in the top of the first.

"That was very costly," Matsuzaka said. "Their swings were very sharp. I was sure we weren't going to win because I gave up four runs. My fastball was not so good today."

Matsuzaka, who gave up seven hits and five walks while striking out 10, probably will get the ball in Japan's final game, be it for the gold or the bronze.

Japan (4-2) almost stole the victory. Korea had the bases loaded in the ninth with one out against Matsuzaka when right fielder Byung-Kyu Lee grounded to second. Japan second baseman Jun Heima threw home, and Korean runner Sung-Heon Hong appeared to be safe, eluding the tag of catcher Fumihiro Suzuki. But the plate umpire called Hong out, and Matsuzaka escaped the inning. Japan then had runners at first and second with two out in the bottom of the ninth when left fielder So Taguchi singled to right, but Lee threw out Heima at the plate to end the inning.

Korea scored the winning runs in the 10th off Japan reliever Yoshikazu Doi, both unearned. Left fielder Sung-Ho Jang reached on an error and moved to second on DH Ki-Tai Kim's single, and first baseman Seung-Yuop Lee's single loaded the bases. Jang and Kim scored when Japan third baseman Norihiro Nakamura booted a grounder, which bounded far into foul territory.

Japan rallied again in the bottom of the 10th, with DH Yukio Tanaka singling in first baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka, who had doubled. But winning pitcher Jin Pil-Jung got pinch-hitter Shinnosuke Abe to hit into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.

South Africa 3, Netherlands 2 (10 innings)

On Wednesday, the Netherlands shook up the tournament by dealing Cuba its first-ever Olympic defeat, a 4-2 stunner that ended Cuba's 21-game winning streak. Saturday, the Dutch found themselves on the other end of the upset.

With their medal-round destiny firmly in their own control, the Dutch (2-4) let it slip away with a shocking 3-2 loss in 10 innings to South Africa (1-5) at Blacktown Ballpark, handing the Africans their first victory in the baseball competition. South Africa had lost its first five games by a combined score of 58-5, but got a pair of solo home runs from right fielder Ian Holness, including a game-winning shot in the 10th off Dutch closer Rikkert Faneyte.

"I am extremely disappointed," Netherlands coach Pat Murphy said. "I think our players underestimated South Africa and were overconfident going into the game. We have moved from the penthouse to the outhouse. We've beaten Cuba, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, yet we can't beat a side that had yet to win a game."

The Netherlands never led against righthander Tim Harrell (Dodgers), the South African ace who went all 10 innings after getting shelled by Italy in his prior start. Harrell gave up two unearned runs on five walks and six hits, striking out four.

Holness, now hitting .381 in the tournament, knocked in all three South Africa runs. He hit a solo homer in the sixth off Netherlands starter Patrick de Lange, but the Dutch tied the score in the bottom of the seventh on a pinch-hit single by Ken Brauckmiller, the pitcher who beat Cuba on Wednesday.

Holness put the South Africans back on top in the eighth against Dutch lefty Radhames Dykhoff, the only member of the team to pitch in the major leagues (albeit for one inning). After Eelco Jansen walked left fielder Clint Alfino, Dykhoff came in to face Holness, who promptly delivered a run-scoring double.

The Netherlands tied it up in the bottom of the eighth when left fielder Hensley Meulens doubled home Faneyte, who had reached on an error. The Dutch had a runner on second with one out in the bottom of the ninth but couldn't score as second baseman Ralph Milliard and shortstop Robert Eenhoorn failed to come through. And in the 10th, Harrell retired the side in order, getting Meulens on a grounder to shortstop Paul Bell (Brewers) to end the game.

To make the medal round, the Netherlands must beat Italy on Sunday and hope for the improbable combination of an Australian upset of Team USA and a South African upset of Korea. Then the Dutch would have to win a three-way tiebreaker, the first of which is fewest runs allowed.

"This is destroying for us," Murphy said. "I don't know how I am going to get the boys up for the game versus Italy."

Italy 8, Australia 7 (12 innings)

Australia may have squandered its medal chances by blowing leads of 5-1 and 6-4 at Blacktown, losing to Italy 8-7 in 12 innings.

The Aussies (2-4) can still make the medal round, but they will need to beat Team USA and have Korea lose to South Africa on Sunday, both unlikely. If both of those upsets occur, it's also possible that the Netherlands could force a three-way tie for the final spot. In that case, the first tiebreaker is fewest runs allowed.

"I was disappointed, but we will come out (Sunday) and have a respectable game against the U.S.," said team captain David Nilsson, who went 3-for-3 with three walks (two intentional) and raised his average to a tournament-leading .571. "We had our chances to win it, and it was a game we should have won. We have given a good effort, but we have underachieved."

Italy (2-4) has a slim chance of advancing to the next round, but that scenario is even more complicated and improbable.

Trailing 5-1, the Italians rallied against relievers Tom Becker and Mike Nakamura to get within 6-4 before facing closer Grant Balfour in the ninth. Former University of North Carolina catcher and indy leaguer Chris Madonna tied the game with a two-run homer off Balfour to send the game into extra innings, and Italian closer Marc Cerbone kept it tied with 3 1/3 scoreless innings through the 11th.

In the 12th, Italy got to lefthander Craig Anderson, who had been Australia's most reliable reliever to date. Second baseman Alberto D'Auria reached on an error by second baseman Glenn Williams and DH Luigi Carrozza followed with a two-run homer to make it 8-6.

Australia rallied in the bottom half against Fabio Betto, who gave up a run when center fielder Grant McDonald doubled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on third baseman Paul Gonzalez' groundout. But Betto got pinch-hitter Gary White on a ground out to end the game.

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