By Paresh Dave
YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Olympic host Japan beat South Korea on Wednesday to earn a berth in baseball’s gold medal game and the Dominican Republic will play for bronze. Their respective opponents will be decided by Thursday’s game between the United States and South Korea.
Wednesday’s results ensure that one of the three favorites in the six-team tournament will win gold. The United States and South Korea each have a gold medal in five Olympic baseball appearances. Japan’s best was silver in 1996. Cuba, which won other previous gold medals, failed to qualify for these Games.
Japan’s golden ticket came after Tetsuto Yamada cleared the goals with a three-point brace in the eighth inning to set up a 5-2 win over South Korea.
Yamada said he wanted a buyout for pulling out and blocking two runners two innings earlier.
âWhile waiting for my turn, I was like ‘what can I do on the first pitch’,â he said. “I was well prepared.”
The eighth round rally began after Japan’s Kensuke Kondoh safely reached first base on a fielder’s choice. There was some controversy over the game, but the referees upheld their safety decision after reviewing reruns to verify South Korea’s claim that he did not hit the first goal.
After the game, South Korean coach Kim Kyung-moon said he accepts the decision and focuses on the next game against the United States.
Starting pitchers Ko Young-pyo of South Korea and Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Japan allowed two runs each. South Korean reliever Go Woo-suk gave up the deciding points in the eighth.
South Korea risk relegation to the bronze medal game if they lose to the United States, which beat the Dominican Republic 3-1 earlier Wednesday for a chance to advance to the medal game. Saturday gold in the unusual tournament format.
In that game earlier, US first baseman Triston Casas slammed his third homerun of the tournament, a two-point shot against his Boston Red Sox minor-league teammate and Dominican starter Denyi Reyes.
Casas also scored in his previous fight against Reyes in a Red Sox scrum last spring – a video the slugger showed Reuters on his phone.
US starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, who came out of a professional baseball surf-filled retirement for the Games so his young children could watch him play, pitched five scoreless innings.
“He may not be throwing as hard as he used to be,” said Dominican Republic outfielder and former Major League player Jose Bautista. But “he showed that guys like him can still go out there and compete.”
Dominican Julio Rodriguez, who was held in check Wednesday for the first time during the Games, dismissed apologies for the heat, poor referees and having to play just 14 hours after knocking out Israel in a close game.
âThere is no one to blame but us,â he said.
Dominican second baseman Gustavo Nunez suffers from oblique muscle tension and will miss the bronze medal game, coach Hector Borg told Reuters. With outfielder Emilio Bonifacio still healing a diseased hamstring, his substitute receiver could be his only bench player for the medal game.
The Dominicans said they felt pressure to win a medal.
âWe have to push all of our chips to the center of the table because there is no tomorrow,â Bautista said.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Bill Berkrot)