Andrew Vaughn hits a single at the WBSC Premier 12 on Nov. 17, 2019 in Tokyo.
The U.S. baseball team will have to wait to secure its return ticket to the Olympic Games.
One team from the Americas would qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 via the ongoing Premier12 tournament, and that team will be Mexico. Although the U.S. kept its hopes alive with a 3-2 win over Chinese Taipei on Friday, it fell 3-2 to Mexico in the bronze-medal game on Sunday local time in Tokyo.
All hope is not lost for the U.S. baseball team, however.
Two spots remain up for grabs in the six-team Olympic tournament. One country from the Americas will earn a berth through an eight-team tournament in March in Arizona. The final team will qualify via a tournament featuring countries from various continents in Chinese Taipei.
Those teams will join Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic tournament.
Japan had an automatic berth in the 2020 Games as the host country, and Israel had previously qualified as the winner of the Europe/Africa qualifier. South Korea, like Mexico, qualified via the Premier12, where it was the top finisher (excluding Japan) from the Asia/Oceania region.
The Premier12, which was founded in 2015, is a quadrennial tournament featuring the top 12 ranked baseball teams in the world. Players currently on MLB 40-man rosters are not eligible to participate, though the U.S. team features seven players ranked among the top-100 prospects by MLB Pipeline, including No. 5 Jo Adell, an outfielder in the Los Angeles Angels organization.
The U.S. opened the tournament with a 2-1 record in the preliminary round earlier this month in Guadalajara, Mexico, which was good enough to advance to the six-team Super Round that is ongoing in Tokyo. However, the second-ranked U.S. team struggled to find consistency, falling to South Korea, then beating top-ranked Japan only to then lose to last-place Australia. Because a first-round loss to Mexico carried over in the standings, the U.S. was 1-3 and tied for fifth place going into Friday, while Mexico was 3-1 and tied for first.
With four games remaining in the Super Round, the U.S. needed three of the four results to go its way to keep its Olympic hopes alive. The first two went as hoped.
Step one for the Americans was beating Chinese Taipei on Friday local time, and the U.S. did its part. Right fielder Brent Rooker hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning to give Team USA a 3-2 win. Seven U.S. pitchers combined to hold Chinese Taipei to just four hits.
The U.S. then needed South Korea to beat Mexico later in the day, and the Koreans did just that, winning 7-3. That clinched a South Korea-Japan showdown for the gold medal on Sunday, while ensuring Mexico would play for bronze.
Now the Americans just needed Chinese Taipei to beat Australia, which would give both the U.S. and Chinese Taipei a 2-3 record but send Team USA to the bronze-medal game via tiebreaker. Chinese Taipei did indeed defeat Australia, 5-1, keeping Team USA’s hopes alive.
In the bronze-medal game, Adell put the U.S. on top early with a solo home run in the first inning. Mexico didn’t counter until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Matt Clark hit an RBI single to tie things up. Team USA wasted no time striking back, a Bobby Dalbec single driving in Andrew Vaughn from second base to put the U.S. back on top 2-1 in the top of the seventh inning. Clark led off the bottom of the ninth with a solo home run to tie the score at two runs apiece, sending the game into extras.
In the 10th inning, the U.S. squandered a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity, but Mexico did not. Efren Navarro drove in the game-winning run with a broken-bat single to send Mexico to the Olympics
Baseball had been an Olympic medal sport from 1992 to 2008 but was dropped, along with softball, for the past two Games. Both sports will be back in 2020 in Tokyo, though they will not be contested at the 2024 Games in Paris. The sports’ Olympic future beyond that has not yet been determined.
Team USA has competed in four of the five Olympic baseball tournaments, missing out only in 2004, and won the gold medal in 2000, along with bronzes in 1996 and 2008.