Wednesday saw the first of three Olympic tournament quarterfinals: the group winners quarterfinal between Japan and the U.S., and the second- and third-place finishers’ quarterfinal between South Korea and Israel.
South Korea’s game was a lot closer than it looked, while Japan’s win could not have been any tighter.
Japan 7, United States 6, 10 innings
At Yokohama Stadium: Samurai Japan overcame a poor start from Masahiro Tanaka and another bad relief outing from Koyo Aoyagi, to beat the United States in a roller coaster of a game and advance to a semifinal game against arch-rival South Korea.
Since pros were allowed into the Olympic baseball tourney, Japan is 0-4 against South Korea in two group-stage losses, the 2000 bronze medal game, and a 2008 semifinal.
Takuya Kai, whose squeeze bunt tied Japan’s game in the ninth in Wednesday’s opener, won this one with a drive to the wall after Japan came from a run down in the ninth to tie it against Yakult Swallows closer Scott McGough thanks to a leadoff Seiya Suzuki walk and a Hideto Asamura single.
The U.S. now goes into the next quarterfinal, on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s elimination game between Israel and the Dominican Republic.
Tanaka, who pitched in the last Olympic tournament in 2008 in Beijing, struck out six, but allowed three fourth-inning runs. With two on and two outs, he hung a 3-2 slider to Nick Allen.
Allen, who’d already missed five sliders from Tanaka smashed it to right to put the U.S. ahead. Brandon Dickson, who’d pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the third to prevent a rout, allowed a tying run in the home half of the fourth.
Aoyagi, who’d surrendered two runs in relief of Yoshinobu Yamamoto in the tournament opener, came on in the fifth and surrendered three runs on Tristan Casas’ second homer, a three-run shot.
Japan answered again in the home half, Seiya Suzuki blasting his first homer, nearly out of Yokohama Stadium off Anthony Carter. Hideto Asamura doubled and scored on a Ryosuke Kikuchi infield single.
But after that, both bullpens got it done. Kodai Senga delivered the lone bright spot in his bizarre 2021 season, striking out five over two scoreless innings. Yudai Ono worked an inning as did Yasuaki Yamasaki (1-2-3!) before Ryoji Kuribayashi stranded both of the Americans’ tie-break runners in a scoreless 10th.
Japan tied it in the
Hayato Sakamoto had three hits, including two big two-out doubles. Masataka Yoshida and Yuki Yanagita each had a pair of singles, while Asamura reached base four times and was only retired on a hard-hit fly out.
South Korea 11, Israel 1
At Yokohama Stadium: Kiwoom Heroes closer Cho Sang Woo got South Korea out of a fifth-inning bases-loaded jam, and the defending 2008 Beijing Olympic champs advanced to Wednesday’s semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics with a win over Israel.
Choi Won Joon, who has fully transitioned to the Doosan Bears’ starting rotation this season, entered in relief with one on and one out and struck out the first batter he faced. With the rain coming down, he hit one batter and then walked the next two.
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, with two homers so far at the Tokyo Olympics, flied out to Choi to end the inning with South Korea leading 3-1.
The Koreans then clinched it, scoring seven runs in the home half, starting when Israel failed to record the first out at the plate on a bases-loaded grounder to first as Lavarnway was unable to handle a bounced throw.
Israel will now play its second elimination game of the tournament, against the Dominican Republic on Tuesday night. Despite their losses, both teams remain in the mix for a possible gold medal.
Cho retired all three batters he faced and earned the win.