By Sports Reporter Sunil Sunder Raj for The Every Day Fan Sports
Facing off against Japan for a second time in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Tournament at Yokohama Baseball Stadium, the USA Baseball team aimed for a higher goal in winning the gold medal.
Team USA came off a convincing 7-2 win over Korea in the semifinals on Thursday, August 5th. A big five-run sixth inning to break the game wide open. Tyler Austin and Jack Lopez each driving in two runs apiece.
Right-handed pitcher Ryder Ryan earned the win in relief, tossing one and two-third innings. The trio of Scott McGough, Anthony Gose, and Anthony Carter surrendering one run on three hits, walking one, and fanning five batters over the final three innings to preserve the victory.
On the flipside, Japan playing a day earlier, on Wednesday, August 4th defeating Korea 5-2. Second baseman Tetsuto Yamada was the primary source of offense driving in three runs. Four pitchers combined to strike out 15 hitters.
Scoreless through two innings of action, Japan tallied the first run of the game in the bottom third as third baseman Munetaka Murakami walloped a solo blast that bounced over the yellow line of the centerfield wall.
Appearing as though Japan might be on the verge of tacking on additional runs by loading up the bases with one in the bottom fourth, Team USA starting pitcher Nick Martinez managed to escape unscathed.
It was first getting centerfielder Yuki Yanagita grounding into a force out at home while second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi up at the plate; Martinez brought the heat by whiffing Kikuchi to end the inning.
Stymied by Japan starting pitcher Masato Morishita’s uncanny wind-up motion, Team USA could not generate much offense through four innings. At one point, Morishita retired six in a row.
Finally, in the top fifth, Team USA broke through with a scoring opportunity. Shortstop Nick Allen cranking a two-out single to right field, followed by centerfielder Jack Lopez getting hit by a pitch. However, Morishita recovered, forcing second baseman Eddy Alvarez into grounding out to shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.
Nick Martinez continued to roll along on the mound for Team USA, striking out the side into the bottom of the fifth to up his strikeout total in the game to seven.
With Masato Morishita departing after five shutout innings, permitting just three hits and striking out five, Team USA faced a new pitcher in Koudai Senga.
Another excellent scoring chance for Team USA occurred with designated hitter Tyler Austin drawing a lead-off walk. With two outs, right fielder Eric Filia getting plunked by Senga. Senga worked out of the jam getting left-fielder Jamie Westbrook to pop out to catcher Takuya Kai in foul territory.
Japan manager Atsunori Inaba made his second call to the bullpen in the seventh inning, signaling Hiromi Itoh to pitch. For a third consecutive inning, Team USA with a chance to tie the game up. Nick Allen smoked a one-out double into the left-center gap. A familiar theme with runners stranded as Itoh retired the final two hitters.
Nick Martinez exited after six solid innings on the hill, yielding one run on five hits, issuing one walking, and striking out seven. Manager Mike Scioscia handed the ball off to Ryder Ryan. Ryan allowed a lead-off double to first baseman Hideto Asamura. Ryan recovered to register the next outs. Munetaka Murakami reached first base on an intentional walk that placed runners on the corner; Ryan avoided further trouble by fanning Takuya Kai.
Team USA baseball had a runner on the base, with a third new pitcher in three innings in Suguru Iwazaki in the eighth inning. Tyler Austin led off the inning by smacking a single to centerfield. Unable to cash in as Iwazaki retired the final three hitters.
Taking over the pitching duties in the bottom half of the frame, Scott McGough surrendered a lead-off single to designated hitter Tetsuto Yamada. Hayato Sakamoto dropped down a sac bunt that moved Yamada over to third base on the play.
Left-fielder Masataka Yoshida followed Sakamato belting a single into centerfield. Jack Lopez scooped up the ball and fired it to home plate, but the ball skipped way wide of catcher Mark Kolozvary.
Standing at the backstop, first baseman Triston Casas threw a strike to Kolozvary at home plate, but Yamada slid in safely headfirst. Manager Mike Scioscia challenged the safe call at home plate. After video replay, the umpires ruled Yamada safe at home plate.
Atsunori Inaba summoned Ryoji Kuribayashi to pitch the top ninth. USA Baseball with one last opportunity to tie the game up. Nick Allen belted his third hit of the game into right field.
The momentum would come to a final halt as Kuribayashi closed it out by getting Jack Lopez to ground out into a force out play at second base, thus setting off a jubilant celebration in the infield.