Japan rallies to push US baseball to the brink of elimination at Olympics

Olympics

Japan’s Takuya Kai, center, and teammates celebrates their wins after a baseball game against the United States at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. Japan won 7-6. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Brandon Dickson, a 36-year-old nine seasons removed from the major leagues, was the first out of the bullpen and the first to stumble.

Edwin Jackson, a 37-year-old released by five big league teams, was the last.

Four of seven U.S. relievers combined to give up five runs as the United States blew a three-run lead in a 7-6 loss to Japan on Monday night that pushed the Americans within a loss of Olympic elimination.

“We played a good game tonight,” U.S. manager Mike Scioscia said. “There were some things that got away from us on the mound.”

Japan overcame a short outing by Masahiro Tanaka. Yuki Yanagita tied it 6-6 with an RBI grounder in the ninth off Scott McGough and Fukuoka teammate Takuya Kai hit a winning single in the 10th against Jackson (0-1) that put the hosts in the semifinals.

Suguru Iwazaki, Koudai Senga, Yasuaki Yamasaki, Yudai Ohno and Ryoji Kuribayashi (1-0) combined for 5 1/3 innings of one-hit scoreless relief. The only blemish against Japan’s bullpen was Triston Casas’ second homer of the tournament, a three-run drive in the third. That put the U.S. ahead 6-3 against Koyo Aoyogi, who gave up five hits in one inning.

“They’re talented guys. They can go out there and they compete with the best of them,” said U.S. designated hitter Tyler Austin, in his second season with Yokohama after four major league seasons.

David Robertson, a 36-year-old former closer, stranded a runner at third in the ninth by striking out Ryosuke Kikuchi on a curveball in the dirt.

Scioscia brought in McGough, a 31-year-old former Miami reliever with 16 saves in his third season with the Central League’s Yakult Swallows. He walked Seiya Suzuki with one out as rain started to fall, then allowed a single to Hideto Asamura that put runners at the corners. Yanagita’s chopper to second drove in a run.

“David’s been searching for a couple things,” Scioscia said. “Scott knows these hitters and can go through the middle of the lineup. We have a lot of confidence in this guy. He just missed with a couple pitches that changed the complexion of that that ninth inning.”

Under tournament rules, extra innings start with runners on first and second, an even more extreme distortion than the Major League Baseball runner-on-second rule used since the start of the 2020 pandemic season.

Kuribayashi retired Todd Frazier, Eric Filia and Mark Kolozsvary in order in the top of the 10th.

Pinch-hitter Ryoya Kurihara sacrificed off Jackson (0-1), a veteran of a record 14 major league teams. Kai, who had entered in the ninth after the starting catcher left for a pinch hitter, lined the next pitch over the five-man infield and off the right-field wall.

Neither McGough nor Jackson came to the interview room after the game.

Japan (3-0) will play South Korea (3-1) on Wednesday night for a spot in the final.

The U.S. (2-1) fell into the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination second round. To reach this weekend’s final, it must prevail Wednesday when it plays the winner of Tuesday’s elimination game between the Dominican Republic (1-2) and Israel (1-3), and then again Thursday against the Japan-South Korea loser.

Tanaka gave up three runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings, pitching in the Olympics for the first time since he threw seven scoreless innings in 2008 as part of a staff that included Yu Darvish.

Frazier, Tanaka’s former Yankees teammate, sparked a three-run fourth with an RBI double.

“Yes, he is a good friend of mine outside of the field,” Tanaka said through a translator. “However, once you start playing, that doesn’t matter. So it was really just me thinking about getting him out.”

Kolozsvary and No. 9 hitter Nick Allen following Frazier with RBI singles.

Tanaka, a 32-year-old right-hander, naturally was wearing pinstripes but with a J on his cap rather than an interlocking NY. He left the Yankees after seven seasons last winter to return to the Pacific League’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

“There weren’t any offers or opportunities that went over my motivation to want to play in Japan,” he said.

Tanaka didn’t want to repeat comments he made on Twitter in March that an incident occured in Florida after the coronavirus pandemic began that made his family feel unsafe, which was interpreted to imply they had felt anti-Asian racism.

“I already have processsed it, so I don’t really have anything to say over here,” he said. “And also regarding racism, this is a very sensitive topic, but I think that this is definitely something that definitely shouldn’t happen regardless of nationality, ethnicity.”

Host Japan, seeking its first baseball gold medal, chased Tampa Bay prospect Shane Baz in the third. Hauato Sakamoto, the 2019 Central League MVP, doubled on a catchable ball that Bubba Starling failed to come up with as he crashed into the center-field wall, and 2020 Pacific League batting champion Masataka Yoshida and 2015 Pacific League MVP Yanagita had RBI singles around a pair of walks.

Starling left in the middle of the fourth due to dizziness.

Sakamoto tied it 3-3 in the fourth against Dickson with his second double, a drive off the 16-foot left field wall.

Japan closed to 6-5 in the fifth against Carter when when Suzuki, Japan’s 2019 Home Run Derby champion, crushed a leadoff homer, Asamura doubled and Ryosuke Kukichi hit a run-scoring infield single.

“Our destiny is still in our hands,” Scioscia said, “so that’s encouraging.”

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