Jim Abbott was crushed. His face was mashed into the dirt and his legs and arms were pinned by a mound of humanity.
"It was the greatest feeling in the world," Abbott said.When he got the final out of the United States' 5-3 victory over Japan in Wednesday's Olympic gold medal game, the entire U.S. squad rushed gleefully to the mound.
Abbott, who got a complete-game victory, wound up at the bottom of the pile. "I'm sore all over," he said, grinning ear to ear. "But it was worth it. I'd do it 1,000 times over . . . I loved it."
Abbott, who was born without a right hand and hopes to become the first one-handed pitcher in the major leagues since the 1880s, struck out four, walked three and allowed seven hits.
It was the final time for baseball as an Olympic demonstration sport; America's Pastime becomes a fully recognized Olympic event at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
The 1988 American team, essentially a collection of college all-stars, took a victory lap around the outfield at Chamshil Stadium, waving the American flag, after the United States won its first global title of any kind since the 1974 World Championships.
"It was an incredible feeling when they hung the gold medal around my neck," said Abbott, the former Michigan star. "I think there's something extra about winning a gold medal in a team sport, because we each can say to 19 other guys, `Hey, we did it."'
American coach Mark Marquess said he was on the verge of taking Abbott out when the pitcher was struggling in the sixth inning.
Abbott walked one run home as Japan pulled to within 4-3. But he settled down, shutting the Japanese out over the final three innings.