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South Korea spoils Americans' Olympic opener

Aug. 13, 2008, 10:18 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Lee Jong-wook hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly with one out and South Korea answered the Americans' ninth-inning rally with one of its own, beating the United States 8-7 on Wednesday night in a thrilling Olympic baseball opener for both teams.

Lee Taek-keun's slide home easily beat the throw for the winning run, and he celebrated on his knees for a long while before getting up to join his jubilant teammates.

The South Koreans then tipped their caps to all the animated fans from their homeland. The supporters were on their feet in the bleachers all night.

In earlier games, Canada beat China 10-0 in eight innings to spoil the Chinese team's Olympic debut and Taiwan defeated the Netherlands 5-0.

The Americans had seemed poised for the comeback victory after Matt Brown hit a go-ahead two-run single with two outs in the top of the ninth, but South Korea rallied against closer Jeff Stevens in the bottom half.

The stunned U.S. players quickly moved past nearly two dozen media members without stopping for interviews. The Americans had a quick turnaround to face the Netherlands on Thursday morning.

Pinch-hitter Jeong Keun-woo doubled to start the bottom of the ninth for South Korea, which battered U.S. starter Brandon Knight and pulled off the biggest upset on the first day of the eight-team, round-robin tournament.

South Korea tied it when second baseman Jayson Nix's throw home on Lee Taek-keun's grounder was wide and allowed Jeong to score.

Mike Hessman homered leading off the ninth against Han Ki-joo, who then allowed a single to Taylor Teagarden and Brian Barden's double for his third hit of the game.

South Korean manager Kim Kyung-moon then turned to Yoon Suk-min and the Americans lifted Teagarden at third for speedy pinch-runner Dexter Fowler. Yoon struck out John Gall and got Nix to pop up before Terry Tiffee's walk loaded the bases for Brown - and his sharp single found the gap in left-center.

Nate Schierholtz also had a solo homer for the U.S. team after hitting four during six exhibition games. The Americans are a medal hopeful after missing out on a bid to the 2004 Athens Games. The U.S. team won gold in Sydney in 2000.

On a night with low-hanging haze outside the fences, about a dozen pro scouts turned out before heading next-door to see to Japanese pitching prospect Yu Darvish against Cuba.

Lee Dae-ho - South Korea's burly and imposing designated hitter - hit a two-run homer and nearly connected again in the fifth with a drive that center fielder Schierholtz caught at the wall. He then hit one just outside the right-field foul pole in the eighth.

The U.S. team, which led 1-0 after the first following Matt Brown's RBI single, left a baserunner on third in the eighth.

Neither manager would announce his starter leading up to the first preliminary game of this eight-team, round-robin tournament - baseball's last before coming off the Olympic program for the 2012 London Games.

When U.S. skipper Davey Johnson and Kim met at home plate minutes before first pitch, they didn't make eye contact until the very last moment for a polite handshake and tip of the cap.

Johnson went with an experienced lineup and started Knight, the oldest player on the American roster at 32. The right-hander was tagged for six runs on eight hits in 4 1-3 innings. He struck out two and walked two.

It was Knight who last month made an emergency start for the New York Mets while Pedro Martinez was gone for his father's funeral in the Dominican Republic.

New York then designated Knight for assignment the next day, allowing him to stay on the Olympic team because he was off the Mets' roster.

South Korea's fans were out in force and overmatched the U.S. fans - waving flags, cheering loudly and banging noisemakers. They even had their own version of scantily clad cheerleaders. A giant inflatable panda mascot danced outside along the baselines before the game.