Cuba and South Korea beat their regional rivals, the United States and Japan, during the Olympic baseball semifinals. The two teams will compete this weekend for the gold medal.
Cuba and South Korea crushed their neighbours and fiercest rivals the United States and Japan respectively on Friday and will contest the Beijing Olympics baseball gold medal on Saturday.
Defending champions Cuba pounded the American pitchers for 14 hits, including three-run homeruns by outfielder Alexei Bell and catcher Ariel Pestano, on the way to winning their semi-final game 10-2.
The Koreans won the other semi-final, 6-2, to leave Japan and the US to fight for the bronze medal.
Cuban manager Antonio Pacheco said his team got to know the South Koreans very well after tune-up games in Seoul while training for the Olympics. The Koreans had also beaten the Cubans 7-4 in the preliminaries here last Tuesday.
Pacheco said he will likely start the big Cuban pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo, who played three brilliant innings of relief on Friday, leaving the Americans scoreless on two hits and striking out four batters.
The Cubans however savoured their victory against their ideological rivals the United States.
"(It) proved that we're really a good team. The USA are strong but we played well," said Bell.
"After our win, we're confident going into the game," said Cuban designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne.
US designated hitter Matt Brown said: "They're a great team with some great players. They hit our (pitching) mistakes tonight. They hit them over the fence."
In the other semi-final, clean-up batter Lee Seung-Yuop starred for the Koreans, slamming a two-run homer at the bottom of the eighth inning that took the wind out of the Japanese, who had led early at 2-1 after six innings.
Kang Min-Ho and Lee Jin-Young also delivered run-scoring hits as the Koreans outslugged the Japanese with 10 hits in the match.
South Korean ace pitcher Kim Hwang-Hyun delivered eight solid innings, allowing six hits, walking two and striking out five.
Japan and Korea are the only top-tier baseball nations in Asia, battling for regional supremacy in the sport's last Olympic appearance.
"Had we lost the game today there would have been even more pressure for us in the (bronze medal game) tomorrow," said South Korean manager Kim Kyoung-Moon, who added that he tried to save as many pitchers as possible for Saturday's final.
"I hope our good luck will accompany us up to the end of this tournament."
Date created : 2008-08-22