Kelsey Stewart jumps on home plate after hitting a walk-off home run during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo.
The Nos. 1 and 2 softball teams in the world got together at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Monday, though it was basically just an exhibition game.
That’s because the top-ranked U.S. and second-ranked Japan entered the last day of pool play with identical 4-0 records, both having already clinched a spot in Tuesday’s gold-medal game. The only item at stake Monday was which team would be the “home” team.
And that will be the U.S., thanks to Kelsey Stewart’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 2-1 victory at Yokohama Baseball Stadium at Yokohama, Japan. Being the home team could be a huge factor as four of the five games in which the U.S. or Japan has been the home team during these Olympics have ended with extra-innings walk-offs (two by each).
While Monday had a casual tension to it, everything will be ratcheted up significantly Tuesday with the gold medal on the line. First pitch is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET (8 p.m. in Tokyo).
This will be the third time these two countries have played for gold. The rivals split their previous gold-medal clashes, with Japan winning 3-1 in the 2008 Beijing Games — the last time softball was contested in the Olympics — and the U.S. coming out on top 2-1 in eight innings in the Olympic Games Sydney 2000. The U.S. has won three of the four Olympic gold medals in softball.
In addition to the rivalry, another aspect that ramps up the importance of this gold-medal game is the future of softball in the Olympics. Softball, in conjunction with baseball, was added by Japan for the Tokyo Games, but the sports will not be on the program for the 2024 Paris Olympics. However, there’s a possibility both could return for the Olympic Games Los Angeles 2028.
“It’s so tough, this question, because in my opinion softball should be in the Olympic Games,” left-handed pitcher Monica Abbott, who at age 35 could be in her last Olympics, said before Monday’s game. “It’s the highest level in the sport of softball and for women, for this sport, it’s the highest level that can be played for us and that’s huge being in the Olympic Games.