US baseball team will play Japan in gold medal game

By James Wagner

The Olympic gold medal in baseball, after a 13-year absence of the sport from the Games, will come down to the tournament’s two best teams: Japan and the United States.

In a semifinal at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on Thursday, the United States topped South Korea, 7-2, behind another strong all-around performance. Joe Ryan, a right-handed starter, allowed one run over four and one-third innings. Four relievers, led by Anthony Gose, combined to allow just one more run the rest of the way.

All tournament long, it has felt like a collision course between top-ranked Japan, which has never won a gold medal in Olympic baseball, and the United States, which won its only one in 2000. The U.S.’ only blemish so far at the Tokyo Games is a 7-6 loss in 10 innings to Japan on Monday.

Because of that defeat, the United States had to beat the Dominican Republic and South Korea to advance to the gold medal game. Japan simply had to beat South Korea, which it did Wednesday.

On Friday, leading 2-1, the United States exploded for a five-run sixth inning that put the game out of reach. Mark Kolozsvary, Jack Lopez and Eddy Alvarez each drove in a run, while Tyler Austin capped the offensive outburst with a two-run single.

After the game, American third baseman Todd Frazier said he told his teammates to get a good night’s sleep and that on Saturday (6 a.m.), “You’re going to play in the best game of your life.”

By advancing to the final game, the United States is guaranteed a medal, and so is Alvarez, the team’s starting second baseman. That means Alvarez, 31, will become the sixth person — third American — to win a medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. At the Sochi Games in 2014, Alvarez, the son of Cuban immigrants, won a silver medal as part of the U.S. 5,000-meter relay team in short-track speedskating.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said after Thursday’s game. “But the job’s not done yet.”

South Korea, which won the gold medal the last time baseball was played in the Olympics in 2008, will face the Dominican Republic on Saturday afternoon in the bronze-medal game.

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