Kathy Willens, Associated Press
U.S. baseball players Mike Hessman, left John Gall, Lou Marson, Jayson Nix and Jason Donald celebrate bronze medal at Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics after Saturday's 8-4 win over Japan.

BEIJING — You can excuse the likes of Kevin Jepsen, Matt Brown and the other members of the United States baseball team if the 2008 Olympics serve as their sole one-and-done Summer Games experience.

Even if the Beijing bronze medals they won — earned with Saturday's 8-4 victory over Japan — weren't quite the precious-metal type they were hoping to bring back home.

Unlike other athletes who get their first taste of the Olympics and want to return and do better four years later, the U.S. baseball players don't have that chance.

And they don't necessarily want that chance, either, even if they had it.

When it comes to baseball, these guys would rather be "the boys of summer" in the major leagues, not "the boys of the Summer Games."

First, baseball took its final bow at the Beijing Games, being dropped from the Olympics schedule going into London in 2012.

Unlike the National Hockey League, which was been content to interrupt its season every four years to send its top players to the Winter Games, Major League Baseball isn't willing to make similar concessions.

The result: The sport's biggest names and biggest draws from the United States and throughout the world aren't in the Olympics every fourth summer but trying to be in the thick of a pennant race of America's pastime on American soil.

"That's the tough thing, with baseball back in the States," said Jepsen, the Salt Lake Bees pitcher who came in relief and threw scoreless ball over the final two innings to earn the U.S. save.

"You have Major League Baseball, which comes first," he added, "so this kind of plays second, a backseat to that, and I think that plays a big part of (the Olympics) dropping it."

What Jepsen and Brown would like to do this summer is the 2008 daily double — package their Olympics medal-winning finish with a league title as they return to the Bees for a Pacific Coast League title run.

A bronze medal and a PCL championship ring, all in one season?

"That," Jepsen said, "would be nice."

Still, he wishes the Olympics would continue to contest baseball and that the United States could still send a team of minor-leaguers and major-league aspirants to the Games.

"I think it's a shame," he said of the IOC decision to drop baseball. "This has been a great tournament. I don't think anybody expected it to be as stiff a competition as it was. Every team on any day could win — there was no easy game, I don't think, for any team."

In addition to Jepsen's late-game efforts from the mound Saturday, Bees infielder Matt Brown — who in Beijing played first, third and designated hitter for the U.S. — clubbed a three-run home run in the third inning to knot the score at 4-all.

And when the Americans took their first lead of the game in commanding style with a four-run fifth inning, Brown started the game-winning rally with a double, being followed by Taylor Teagarden's two-run double and Jason Donald's two-run homer.

Jepsen was called on in the eighth to finish the job starter Brett Anderson began, looking to protect the four-run lead. And he did so, throwing late-game pitches in the range of mid-90s mph — or 150-plus kilometers per hour, when one's pitching in Beijing.

In the eighth, Jepsen gave up a single before an inning-ending double play thwarted any Japanese threat.

The ninth inning was more suspenseful, when a walk, a single and a wild pitch put runners on second and third before Jepsen concluded his shutout efforts by forcing the game-inning groundout.

And with its second win over Japan in three days coming in the final day of medal-round play, the United States sent America's game into a bronze-colored Olympics sunset.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com