Alec Bohm throws to the first base in the bottom of 7th inning during the WBSC Premier 12 Super Round game against South Korea on Nov. 11, 2019 in Tokyo.
The U.S. baseball team, needing a lifeline to keep its Olympic hopes alive in the WBSC Premier12 tournament, got just that when it defeated host and top-ranked Japan 4-3 on Tuesday in Tokyo.
With two games remaining in the Super Round, however, the U.S. still faces an uphill battle in its first opportunity to earn a berth into the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The top team from the Americas at the Premier12 will qualify for the six-team Olympic field, but Mexico is in the driver’s seat with a 3-0 record, including a win over the U.S. in the first round of the Premier12 earlier this month, a result that carried over. Team USA has a 1-2 record and sits two games behind first-place Mexico.
So the most likely path to the Olympics for Team USA will be to meet Mexico in a winner-take-all game in the medal round on Sunday. The U.S. plays last-place Australia on Wednesday and finishes against Chinese Taipei, which is also 1-2, on Friday local time. Mexico still has to play Japan and South Korea, who both have 2-1 records and currently sit second and third.
Should the U.S. not qualify for Tokyo via the Premier12, its next chance to earn an Olympic berth via a qualifying tournament next March in Arizona.
Team USA used six pitchers in the victory against Japan, with Penn Murfee starting and Clayton Richard earning the win.
Shortstop Jacob Cronenworth drove in third baseman Alec Bohm to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning, and the Americans never trailed after that. Outfielder Jo Adell went 2-for-3 with a home run to lead Team USA. Bohm, right fielder Brent Rooker and second baseman Connor Chatham also had two hits each, with Chatham’s both coming on doubles.
The U.S. team features some of baseball’s top prospects, including Adell, a Los Angeles Angels minor leaguer who is rated No. 5 by MLB Pipeline, though players who are on MLB 40-man rosters were not eligible for the national team.
Baseball, which had been an Olympic medal sport from 1992 to 2008, returns to Tokyo 2020 alongside softball. However, it will not be part of the Olympic Games Paris 2024.