The last time the United States and Japan met on an Olympic baseball field, the match featured 12 runs combined as the United States team won 8-4 to claim bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. .
Monday’s second-round game in baseball’s Olympic comeback was much closer, had even more runs, even more innings, but unfortunately for the United States the result was the opposite. Takuya Kai hit a 10th-place RBI single to win 7-6 and advance Japan to the semi-finals and send the United States team to a winning or home game on Wednesday. It was the tournament’s first loss for the United States
One man who appeared in both games was Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, a former New York Yankees star, who pitched five innings in relief in the 2008 bronze medal game and started Monday night. But Tanaka wouldn’t hold up five times this time around in a back-and-forth affair featuring timely strikes from two of the best baseball nations in the world.
American starter Shane Baz avoided trouble in the first two innings with a timely defense. Japan brought runners to third in each of the opening two innings, but both were blocked thanks to double plays. Japan broke through in the third inning, with five straight batters hitting safely and tackling two runs, all with two strikeouts in the inning, chasing Baz out of the game.
But the United States would respond immediately leading the fourth. Three hits in the inning, punctuated by Nick Allen’s RBI double, would score three runs and end the night for Tanaka. Japan would respond by taking a point, then early in the fifth, Boston Red Sox top prospect Triston Casas threw his second home run of the tournament for a 6-3 lead.
The US reliever pen struggled to contain a patient Japanese team that took a contact-oriented approach and put pressure on the US defense and pitchers. After three hard-hit balls hit reliever Anthony Carter for two runs, Ryder Ryan was able to secure the final two strikeouts and maintain a one-point lead in the fifth.
The American relievers calmed down and allowed just two hits from the sixth to the ninth inning, but the second came after a ninth inning by Scott McGough and sent the tie for third. An RBI Groundout by Yuki Yanagita would send the match to extra innings. Despite the runners finishing first and second in the 10th round under Olympic rules, the United States could not score.
Japan would take advantage of the free runners, as Ryoya Kurihara made a sacrificial sacrifice against former MLB star Edwin Jackson to move the winning race to third place. Kai then hit a laser line from the wall on the right to remove it and start a celebration in his hometown. Japan will face South Korea in the semi-finals while the United States await the winner of the Israel-Dominican Republic game in the second round of the draft.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 for the medal table, results and competition schedule.