Tetsuto Yamada came through when it mattered most.
Yamada, a six-time NPB All-Star, hit a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday, August 4, to lead Japan to a 5-2 win over South Korea and into the final of the Tokyo Olympics baseball tournament at Yokohama Stadium.
Ryoji Kuribayashi retired the side in the ninth to earn the save as Japan improved to 4-0. The result ensured that Japan will win a medal in Olympic baseball for the first time since taking the bronze in Athens in 2004. Japan failed to win a medal in Beijing 2008, the last time baseball was contested in the Olympics.
Kensuke Kondo reached on a fielder’s choice in the eighth and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
“I decided in the on-deck circle to swing at the first pitch,” Yamada said. “I got a pitch I could drive and was thrilled that I could come though in that situation. I hope I can keep up this form in the final and help the team win a gold medal.”
In the final on Saturday, August 7, Japan will face either the United States or South Korea and will be bidding for its first-ever Olympic gold medal, earning either a silver or gold medal.
Japan starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto turned in another solid performance, striking out nine batters and giving up two runs on five hits over 5⅓ innings.
Japan reliever Hiromi Ito picked up the win after coming on in the seventh and giving up one hit over two scoreless innings.
“Our players realized the importance of this game and really came through,” said Japan manager Atsunori Inaba. “The pitchers were especially good and got us out of some tight situations.”
Japan took a 2-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Hayato Sakamoto in the third inning and an RBI single by Masataka Yoshida in the fifth that scored Yamada from third. But South Korea tied it with two runs in the top of the sixth.
Earlier, the United States beat the Dominican Republic 3-1 to advance to the semifinals.
Triston Casas hit a two-run homer in the first inning to power the U.S. squad.
Starter Scott Kazmir gave up just two hits while striking out five over five scoreless innings for the win.
Tyler Austin, who plays for the Yokohama BayStars, hit a solo homer in his home park in the bottom of the fifth.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here, on JAPAN Forward.