It’s not what the medal they came for, but Team USA isn’t heading home empty handed.
Fresh off a disheartening defeat at the hands of Cuba in the semifinal game, the U.S. bounced back to beat Japan 8-4 in the bronze medal game.
The United States wins its third Olympic medal in the five Games with baseball as a medal sport. The U.S. didn’t medal in 1992 or 2004 (when it didn’t even qualify), won gold in 2000 and adds this bronze to the one it took in 1996 in Atlanta. For Japan, it’s a crushing loss, the second time in the last three Olympics that Japan has failed to medal despite using its top-level professionals (Japan won bronze in 2004).
It was a game of comebacks for the U.S. Norichika Abe put Japan ahead 4-1 in the third when he hit a three-run home run off of Team USA starter Brett Anderson. But Matt Brown answered with a three-run homer of his own in the bottom of the inning to knot the score at 4-4.
The U.S. pulled ahead for good with a four-run fifth, which was fueled by Taylor Teagarden’s two-run double and Jason Donald’s two-run home run.
“It was a great game,” said manager Davey Johnson. “Our bats woke up and Brett really pitched a great ball game. He had a little trouble in the second and third inning; I guess his rhythm was a little off. He wasn’t locating pitches like he would like to. He gave up a couple of home runs but then he settled down and really won the game for us. He was very dominant after the home run by (Japan’s) right fielder.
“Our big bat, Matt Brown did a heck of a job and Jason Donald has played great the whole time. He hit a two-run shot that really put the game out of reach.”
Brown’s homer was his second of the tournament, and his 10 RBIs led Team USA. Matt LaPorta tied him for the team lead with two homers.
It was also a day of comebacks for two injured U.S. players as LaPorta (concussion) and Jayson Nix (face laceration and swelling) both returned to the lineup after missing much of the Olympics. LaPorta got the U.S. on the board with a solo homer in the second, and Nix walked and scored in the third, and retired Aoki at second for the final out of the game.
Anderson settled down after a rocky start to handcuff Japan’s hitters, pitching seven innings. The second batter of the game, Masahiro Akira, homered to give Japan an early lead, and Aoki’s three-run homer gave Japan a short-lived lead, but after that, Anderson allowed only two hits and a walk in his final four innings of work. Kevin Jepsen (Angels) pitched two scoreless innings to wrap up the bronze.
“I thought we did a great job today,” said Donald, the Phillies farmhand who hit .381 to lead the Americans offensively. “After last night and coming into today, we could have folded really easily, especially when they got up 4-1. I think we just kept fighting and kept having great at-bats knowing that we had a good amount of time in the ball game.
“It was a great win. We would have liked to have won a gold (medal) but we won today, and getting out of here with a medal, that is huge.”