The last time the U.S. and Japan met on an Olympic baseball field, the game featured 12 combined runs as Team USA won 8-4 to secure the bronze medal at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.
Monday’s second-round matchup in the Olympic return of baseball was much closer, featured even more runs, even more innings, but unfortunately for the U.S., the reverse result. Takuya Kai hit a walk-off RBI single in the 10th to win 7-6 and advance Japan to the semifinals and send Team USA to a win-or-go-home matchup on Wednesday. It was the first loss of the tournament for the U.S.
One man who participated in both games was Japan pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, a former All-Star with the New York Yankees, who pitched five innings in relief in the 2008 bronze-medal game and started Monday night. But Tanaka wouldn’t last five this time in a back-and-forth affair that featured timely hitting from two of the world’s top baseball nations.
U.S. starter Shane Baz avoided trouble in the first two innings with the help of some timely defense. Japan got runners to third base in each of the first two innings but both were stranded courtesy of double plays. Japan broke through in the third inning, with five consecutive batters reaching safely and plating two runs, all with two outs in the inning, chasing Baz from the game.
But the U.S. would answer right back in the top of the fourth. Three hits in the inning, punctuated by Nick Allen’s ringing RBI double, would score three runs and end the night for Tanaka. Japan would respond by pulling one run back, then in the top of the fifth, Boston Red Sox top prospect Triston Casas launched his second home run of the tournament for a 6-3 lead.
The U.S. bullpen struggled to contain a patient Japan lineup that took a contact-oriented approach and put pressure on the U.S. defense and pitchers. After three hard-hit balls touched up reliever Anthony Carter for two runs, Ryder Ryan was able to get the final two outs and preserve a one-run lead in the fifth.
U.S. relievers settled down and allowed just two hits from the sixth to ninth innings, but the second came after a ninth-inning walk by Scott McGough and sent the tying run to third base. An RBI groundout by Yuki Yanagita would send the game to extra innings. Despite getting runners on first and second in the 10th inning per Olympic rules, the U.S. couldn’t score.
Japan would take advantage of the free runners, as Ryoya Kurihara laid down a sacrifice bunt against former MLB All-Star Edwin Jackson to move the winning run to third. Kai then hit a laser line drive off the wall in right to walk it off and start a hometown celebration. Japan will face South Korea in the semifinals while the U.S. will await the winner of the Israel-Dominican Republic matchup in the Round 2 repechage.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.