BEIJING (AP) - Four years after losing to Mexico in a qualifying game that left them out of the Olympics, the U.S. returned to the Olympic stage Wednesday morning, only to lose 8-7 as South Korea pulled a 9th inning rally.
The U.S. scored three runs in the top of the 9th to stay alive, but South Korea rallied for two in the bottom half off closer Jeff Stevens, a Cleveland prospect.
Stevens (4-1, 2.51 at Class AA-Akron) came in after the rest of the U.S. bullpen threw a perfect 4 2/3 innings. But he gave up a leadoff double to Keun Woo Jeong. A grounder advanced him to third, and he then scored on a Taek Keun Lee grounder to 2nd baseman Jayson Nix of the Rockies. Nix's throw to the plate was well off to the first-base side.
Before throwing another pitch, Stevens tried to pick off Lee, but the throw was wild, allowing him to advance to third on a two-base error. Jeon Wook Lee then drove him in with the winning run on a sacrifice fly to center.
Former Southern Leaguer Mike Hessman homered to lead off the 9th, cutting South Korea's lead to 6-5. Matt Brown's 2-run single with two out in the 9th gave the U.S. a 7-6 lead.
USA starter Brandon Knight (Class AAA-New Orleans) gave up 6 runs in 4 1/3 innings, as manager Dave Johnson gave him a lot of chances to work out of jams.
Former Southern Leaguer and Braves prospect Jung Bong held the U.S. to 3 runs in 5 1/3 innings. But the pitching star for Korea was sidearmer Tae Hyong Chown, who struck out 6 in 2 2/3 innings. U.S. hitters struck out 11 times, with John Gall (Class AAA-Albuquerque) striking out three times while going 0-for-5.
On the brighter side, Nate Schierholtz (Class AAA-Fresno) also homered for the U.S. and Brian Barden (Class AAA-Memphis) had three hits.
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. Tonight, the U.S. will play The Netherlands, who lost their opener to Taiwan, 5-0.
In other games (which we'll wrap up shortly), Cuba beat Japan 4-2, while Canada ruled host China 10-0.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)