Erik Kratz hits a single during the National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies on Oct. 5, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wis.
Any room for error for the U.S. baseball team was eliminated Sunday when the team dropped a group-stage game against Mexico in the WSBC Premier12.
The tournament is the first opportunity for Team USA to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where a six-team baseball tournament will be held following the sport’s 12-year hiatus from the Olympics. With Sunday’s 8-2 loss to Mexico in Guadalajara, Mexico, the U.S. is now 1-1 and tied with the Dominican Republic for second in Group A and will need to win a match up between the two teams on Monday in order to guarantee qualification into the six-team Super Round later this month in Tokyo.
The roster of U.S. players appearing in the Premier12 is filled with major league prospects, and 23-year-old right-hander Tanner Houck, the 24th overall draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2017, got the start for Team USA.
However, Mexico jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and never trailed after that.
Veteran catcher Erik Kratz, at 39 the oldest player on the U.S. team, crushed an opposite field home run to right in the third inning to cut Mexico’s lead to one.
Then Bobby Dalbec, a fourth-round pick and prospect in the Red Sox system, led off the fourth with a solo shot of his own to tie the score 2-2. The first baseman had also hit a grand slam the night before in a 9-0 rout of the Netherlands.
Ater his rocky first inning, Houck had retired 11 straight hearing into the 5th inning but gave up back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners before getting the first out. He was relieved by Daniel Tillo, who is in the Royals’ farm system, but a passed ball charged to Kratz allowed the winning run to score.
Mexico then added to the run total with a five-run eighth inning.
Baseball was removed from the Olympic program following the Beijing Games in 2008 but was added back for 2020. The top teams from the Americas and Asia/Oceania at the Premier12 will earn Olympic berths, joining Japan and Israel, which have already qualified. Two additional teams can qualify in March.
Seven teams from the Americas are taking part in this month’s tournament: Mexico, the U.S. and the Dominican Republic are in Group A, Puerto Rico and Venezuela are in Group B, and Canada and Cuba are in Group C.
As will be the case in the Olympics, the U.S. roster is made up of players who are not on MLB 40-man rosters.