Olympic Baseball Memories: The U.S. Defeats Cuba to Capture Gold in 2000

From baseball's admittance as an official Olympic sport at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, the U.S. teams have had mixed results. The medal tally includes one gold, one silver and two bronze medals. The team gold won by the U.S. in 2000 at the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia was capped by a thrilling victory over international baseball powerhouse Cuba.

Team USA was led by Hall-of-Fame manager Tommy Lasorda. Lasorda was committed to leading his squad to its first official gold medal in baseball. (Baseball was a demonstration sport when the U.S. got the gold in Seoul, South Korea in 1988.) With a reasonably talented roster comprising a hodgepodge of top minor league talents and erstwhile major leaguers, the former Los Angeles Dodgers skipper set about his task.

Team USA performed admirably in the preliminary round of the tournament, emerging with a 6-1 record and advancing to the medal round. Team USA notably defeated talented teams from Japan and South Korea. The only blemish on their record was a 6-1 loss at the hands of the Cuban baseball juggernaut.

In their semifinal, Team USA again faced a determined Korea and was able to eke out a 3-2 win. This set up a highly-anticipated rematch with Cuba, which had dealt Japan a resounding 3-0 defeat in the other semifinal matchup.

Lasorda turned to team pitching ace Ben Sheets to start the finale. Sheets-then a top prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers-had an explosive fastball and exhibited outstanding control throughout the game. He walked none, struck out five(including two in the ninth inning), and used just 103 pitches in his complete-game outing.

Team USA plated the only run it would need in the first inning with #3 hitter Mike Neill cracking a solo home run to left. Lasorda's squad added three more runs in the fifth frame as major-league journeyman Ernie Young drove in a pair and veteran big-league backstop Pat Borders got the other RBI. With Sheets shutting down the Cubans and their powerful lineup, Team USA captured gold with a convincing 4-0 win.

Tommy Lasorda had achieved his goal of winning Olympic gold for American baseball. The fact that Team USA did it by beating arch-nemesis Cuba added icing to the cake on America's greatest day in Olympic baseball history to date. And with baseball's exclusion from the Olympic Games until at least 2020, it is uncertain when the U.S. will even have a chance to compete in the sport again.