ATHENS, Greece – It was a game of message-sending: Cuba (search) telling the baseball world it was still a dominating power, and Australia (search) announcing that the sport's elite had a newcomer to reckon with.
With a relentless, 13-hit attack, Cuba defeated Australia 6-2 Wednesday night to win the gold medal -- its third in four tries since the sport gained Olympic status.
The silver was Australia's first medal in the sport; coach Jon Deeble (search) said more would follow.
"A silver medal wasn't a surprise for us," he said. "We were right in this up to our ears. ... Wait for 2008."
Deeble said the outcome might have been different had a controversial call in the fourth inning gone the other way.
He was ejected after arguing in vain that Cuba's center fielder bobbled a two-out line drive against the fence that likely would have scored two runs. Instead, batter Thomas Brice was called out, though TV replays showed Deeble was correct.
With the United States failing to even make the eight-team field, Cuba had been expected to vie for the gold medal with a Japanese "dream team" stocked with top pros. But Australia stunned the favored Japanese 1-0 in the semifinals.
Openly frustrated by its loss, Japan routed Canada 11-2 Wednesday afternoon to win the bronze medal.
Cuba won gold medals in 1992 and 1996, the first two Olympics with baseball as a medal sport. The United States, behind the pitching of Ben Sheets, upset Cuba for the gold medal four years ago in Sydney.
Though the Cubans celebrated joyously after the final out, some of the players hinted they were disappointed they missed a chance to avenge their loss to the Americans.
"We wanted the U.S.A. in Athens," center fielder Carlos Tabares said. "Unfortunately, they didn't make it."
Australian catcher Dave Nilsson, a former all-star with the Milwaukee Brewers, said the United States should learn a lesson from failing to qualify.
"I hope the Americans come to understand that it's not just one country that rules the world in baseball," he said. "The United States had the same chance as Cuba had, and it didn't qualify. I hope it's a wake-up call."
Frederich Cepeda opened the scoring for Cuba in the fourth inning with a two-run home run to right-center.
Australia left fielder Paul Gonzalez cut the margin to 2-1 with a lead-off homer in the fifth. That was the first run in the tournament off Cuban starter Norge Luis Vera, who pitched 13 scoreless innings over three games, and it prompted Cuba to turn to its bullpen.
Relievers Vicyohandri Odelin and Adiel Palma walked the bases loaded. But -- with two outs and a full count -- Australia's Brendan Kingman took a third strike from Palma, who pitched into the ninth, striking out five in 3 2/3 innings and earning the victory.
Cuba put the game away in the sixth, knocking out Australian starter John Stephens -- a Boston Red Sox farm hand -- with four straight singles, the last a ground smash by Eriel Sanchez driving in two runs. With two out, Eduardo Parent doubled down the third base line, driving in two more runs to make it 6-1.
Gonzalez picked up his second RBI for Australia in the eighth inning with a single after two men walked.
With his team down 2-0, Deeble felt the questionable call in the bottom of the fourth was a turning point.
With two on and two outs, Brice hit a deep line drive that Tabares tracked down at full speed as he leapt into the fence. Brice was called out, but TV replays showed the ball squirting out of Tabares' glove and bouncing off the wall before he regained control of it.
Deeble, who said he saw the bobble clearly when it happened, protested the call. He was ejected by left field umpire Pedro Gutierrez, who, according to Deeble, spoke little English.
"There was no interpreter," Deeble said. "That's pathetic in the gold medal game. ... I didn't know what he said, and he didn't know what I said."
Stephens, the losing pitcher, was 9-6 for the Pawtucket Red Sox this season before being excused for the Olympics.
"We didn't expect to get this far," he said. "We showed a lot of people what Australian baseball is."