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Japan Rallies For Three Runs In Ninth, Beats Dominican Republic In Olympics Opener



Hayato Sakamoto hit a walkoff RBI single as Japan scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to come back and beat the Dominican Republic, 4-3, in the opening game of the Olympics on Wednesday.

Japan trailed, 3-1, entering the bottom of the ninth but rallied against Dominican closer Jairo Asencio. Munetaka Murakami’s one-out RBI single brought Japan within a run and No. 9 hitter Takuya Kai laid down a game-tying safety squeeze. Tetsuto Yamada followed with a single to load the bases and send Asencio from the game, and Sakamoto lifted a long fly ball to center field off Jhan Marinez to score Murakami from third base with the winning run.

Asencio (0-1) allowed four hits and three runs in one-third of an inning.

The Dominican Republic never trailed until the ninth. Charlie Valerio put the Dominicans in front when he snapped a scoreless tie with a full-count, two-out, two-run double in the seventh inning. Japan cut the deficit on Murakami’s RBI groundout in the bottom of the seventh, but the Dominican defense made two big plays to keep the team ahead.

Julio Rodriguez made a long running catch in right field to end the seventh inning and strand the tying run on third base. Left fielder Johan Mieses threw out Yamada as the potential tying run at the plate in the eighth on a perfect throw in the air.

Gustavo Nuñez gave the Dominicans an insurance run with an RBI double in the top of the ninth, but it wasn't enough as Japan's vaunted offense finally broke through in the bottom of the inning.

After Hideto Asamura flied out to lead off the inning, Japan's next six hitters all reached base. Kai’s first attempt at a safety squeeze rolled foul down the first-base line, but he kept it fair on the second try and first baseman Jose Bautista’s throw to the plate was too late to get speedy pinch-runner Sosuke Genda, who slid in head first with the tying run. Sakamoto hit a fly ball over a drawn-in outfield two batters later to win it.

The game was a pitcher’s duel until the late innings. Japanese starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitched six scoreless innings, gave up two hits, walked one and struck out nine. Dominican lefthander Cristopher Mercedes, a former Rays prospect who has pitched the last five seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball, held Japan to three hits and one run over six-plus innings. He walked three and struck out seven.

Japan is 1-0 in Group A and will face Mexico on Friday. The Dominican Republic is 0-1 and will play Mexico on Thursday.

Samurai Japan

Japan Tops USA For Olympic Baseball Gold

It took bringing the Olympics coming to baseball-crazy Japan to get the sport re-entered into the Olympics after a two Olympics-long hiatus. And fittingly, baseball’s return was celebrated by Japan winning its long-desired first baseball gold medal.

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