BEIJING (AP) Shortstop Jason Donald half-considered staying in China had the U.S. baseball team gone home without an Olympic medal in hand, fearful of facing the scrutiny and embarrassment.
A few of his teammates might have joined him. Now, Donald and crew won't need to worry about learning Chinese and a new culture.
The Americans had to settle for bronze Saturday, certainly not the medal color they had planned to bring home, but better than the alternative for sure.
"It feels good coming out of here with something," first baseman Terry Tiffee said. "You never want to leave with nothing."
Taylor Teagarden hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the fifth and Donald followed with a two-run homer off the left-field foul pole, lifting the United States to an 8-4 victory over Japan after the Americans had trailed by three runs early.
The players celebrated modestly in the middle of the diamond with hugs, handshakes and high-fives. Some posed for photos at Wukesong Stadium.
The team bounced back 15 hours after a demoralizing 10-2 semifinal loss to defending champion Cuba, finding an answer on offense each time Japan took a lead.
"After last night and coming into today, we could have folded pretty easily, especially when they went ahead 4-1," Donald said. "We would have liked to win gold, but we won today and getting out of here with a medal was huge for us."
Brett Anderson pitched seven solid innings for the U.S. (6-3), a team that consists of a roster of top minor leaguers and one college standout in pitcher Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State.
Anderson, one of two starters from the Oakland Athletics' Double-A affiliate, allowed Norichika Aoki's go-ahead three-run homer in the top of the third but settled down and held the Japanese in check the rest of the way. Kevin Jepsen worked out of a jam in the ninth, getting Shinnosuke Abe to ground out to first to end it.
"Our bats woke up and Brett really pitched a good ballgame," said manager Davey Johnson, who will head home to Central Florida and focus his attention on golf and fishing for a while. "He had a little trouble in the third, then settled down and won the game for us."
The left-hander allowed four runs on five hits, struck out seven and walked three - and the defense was steadier behind him than it had been in games the Americans lost during what for now was their final Olympic run. Baseball is coming off the program for the 2012 London Games.
The last thing these players wanted was to return to their minor league clubs, or for some upcoming September call-ups to the majors, empty-handed after arriving as medal favorites.
After Aoki's homer, U.S. cleanup hitter Matt Brown answered with his own three-run shot in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game at 4.
The end result marked a disappointing and surprising finish for the Japanese - so much so that Aoki fought tears in the postgame news conference.
"I would really like to say sorry to the fans. This isn't how it was supposed to end," Aoki said. "We came here to win a gold medal and it's a shame. ... We have to do our jobs better and win gold in the future."
Japan (4-5) captured the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006 and had been widely considered the favorite to win gold in Beijing. In the eighth, Japanese manager Senichi Hoshino turned to top pitching prospect Yu Darvish, likely to be in the major leagues in a few years. But the damage had already been done and Japan couldn't produce the timely hits late.
"It was a great pity," Hoshino said of failing to medal. "Before the Olympics, I said we would do our best to win gold, and it didn't come through.
The small contingent of American fans at Wukesong Stadium chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" until the final out.
Masahiro Araki homered in the first off Anderson to put Japan ahead 1-0, then Matt LaPorta tied it with a two-out solo shot in the second. Both LaPorta and Jayson Nix returned to the U.S. lineup after sitting out in recent days with injuries.
LaPorta was hit in the head by a pitch against China on Monday and sustained a mild concussion, while Nix fouled a ball off his left eye in the 11th inning of a 5-4 loss to Cuba last Friday and needed microsurgery to repair the wound.
Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, sat in the stands behind home plate for part of the game with International Baseball Federation president Harvey Schiller. The IBAF is campaigning to get baseball back on the Olympic program for the 2016 summer games.