YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — With some names that seemed more relevant to Old-Timers Day than the present, the Dominican Republic overcame a bullpen meltdown to claim its first Olympic baseball medal.
Juan Francisco homered in a four-run first inning, then hit a tiebreaking, two-run double off Seunghwan Oh of South Korea in a five-run eighth of a 10-6 victory Saturday that earned the baseball bronze.
Melky Cabrera had four hits for the Dominicans (3-3).
Ten years ago, these players would have formed a more powerful team, but they would have been blocked from the Olympics because Major League Baseball refuses access to players on 40-man rosters.
“I can’t tell you what would have happened in bygone years, but I do feel a deep sense of pride, and we’re very, very satisfied that we achieved a bronze medal,” Dominican manager Hector Borg said through an interpreter.
The 34-year-old Francisco’s best season was in 2013, when he had 48 RBIs for Atlanta and Milwaukee. Cabrera, 36, was an All-Star for San Francisco in 2012, just before his 50-game suspension under MLB’s drug program.
Francisco hit .208 (5 for 24) with two homers and five RBIs during the tournament, the last for baseball in the Olympics until at least 2028.
Cabrera hit .381 with two RBIs, part of a batting order that included 40-year-old José Bautista (2 for 17, one RBI), a six-time All-Star, and 36-year-old Emilio Bonifacio (4 for 17, .235, no RBIs).
Dominican players danced in the dugout as their offense rolled.
“That is also what makes our country so special, it is that happiness,” Borg said.
South Korea (3-4), the 2008 gold medalist, took a 6-5 lead in a four-run fifth inning against five pitchers. Kang Baek-Ho hit a go-ahead single.
Oh (2-1), a 39-year-old right-hander who pitched for St. Louis, Toronto and Colorado from 2016-19, blew a save for the second time in the tournament.
Kansas City farmhands Jeison Guzman and Erick Mejia singled in the eighth, Seattle prospect Julio Rodríguez walked and Oh threw a wild pitch that tied the score.
Francisco, a six-year big league veteran whose last major league at-bat was in 2014, had struck out in his three previous plate appearances and nine times overall. He doubled to the left-center gap for an 8-6 lead, and Red Sox prospect Johan Mieses followed with a long two-run homer to left.
Cristopher Mercedes (1-0), who pitches for the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, allowed four hits in 3 1/3 shutout innings as the fourth reliever out of the Dominican bullpen.
Jumbo Díaz, four years removed from his last big league appearance, relieved with two on in the ninth and got three straight outs for the save.
“I’m a little bit sad and disappointed,” former Baltimore and Philadelphia outfielder Hyun Soo Kim said through an interpreter.
Kim hit .400 (12 for 30) and led his team with four doubles, three homers and seven RBIs.
“There was a lot of pressure for me to win, and I’m a little bit sad that I wasn’t able to meet my expectation,” he said. “I also want to say sorry to the Korean people who rooted for us.”
Rodríguez, a 20-year-old at Double-A Arkansas, led the Dominicans with a .417 average (10 for 24). He put the Dominicans ahead 2-0 on an afternoon of intermittent rain when he sent a 0-1 pitch well over the left field wall. Francisco drove the next pitch in the last row of the right-field seats for his second Olympic homer and a 3-0 lead.
Mieses walked, and that was it for South Korea starter Kim Min-woo, who allowed four runs, three hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Charlie Valerio added a sacrifice fly.
Dominican starter Raúl Valdés, a 43-year-old left-hander who was the oldest player in the tournament, gave up five runs and nine hits in four-plus innings. Valdés’ last big league appearance was for Houston in 2014.
Rodríguez was hit on the right hand by a pitch from Park Se-Woong in the sixth but stayed in the game.
Jhan Mariñez’s first attempt to relieve was foiled when the bullpen cart started to the mound when he had just one leg on it, causing him to stumble. He got back on and walked his only batter.
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