Japan tops USA to capture gold in Tokyo

August 7th, 2021

Japan has its gold medal.

The host nation of these Olympics captured its first-ever Olympic gold in baseball with a 2-0 victory over Team USA on Saturday.

A solo home run in the third inning from Munetaka Murakami and an insurance run in the eighth was all the support that Japan’s quintet of pitchers needed for the shutout.

Saturday’s game marked the ninth Olympic meeting between the two baseball-rabid countries; Japan now leads the series 5-4 after scoring two wins over Team USA during this tournament.

“We gave it everything we had every single day -- practice and during the games. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t come out on top tonight, but that’s part of the game,” said USA outfielder Tyler Austin, who led the team with 10 hits during the tournament.

The Americans mounted several scoring threats during the middle innings but could not break through. Team USA left two runners on in the fifth and sixth innings. In the seventh, No. 3 A’s prospect Nick Allen doubled into the left-center-field gap and moved over to third with two outs. But Eddy Alvarez, who grounded out with men on first and second in the fifth, hit a harmless chopper to first to strand Allen. Alvarez expressed his frustration by slamming his helmet on the turf.

“I’m going to need a little bit more time for this to settle down,” Alvarez said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a tough pill to swallow. We had one goal, but Japan came out on top.”

With the silver medal, Alvarez, a Marlins Minor Leaguer who served as a flag bearer for Team USA during the Opening Ceremony, becomes the sixth person and the third American to win a medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. At the Sochi Games in 2014, Alvarez won a silver medal as part of the United States’ 5,000-meter relay team in short-track speedskating.

Allen, who recorded three of Team USA’s sixth hits Saturday, singled up the right-field line in the ninth to bring Jack López to the plate, representing the tying run. But the Red Sox Minor Leaguer grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game and Japan’s gold-medal drought. Ryoji Kuribayashi registered his third save in six games with a scoreless ninth.

Former Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez got stuck with a tough-luck loss as he was mistake-free beyond that solo shot from Murakami. Martinez allowed five hits, one walk and struck out seven in six innings.

“Nick pitched a hell of a game and I wish we could have pulled it out for him,” Austin said.

The United States has won four medals in baseball during the Olympic Games. Including this year’s silver, they claimed gold in 2000 and bronze in 1996 and 2008.