Japan Rallies Past United States To Advance To Olympics Semifinals

Image credit: Takuya Kai (Getty Images)

The United States was two outs away from advancing to the Olympics semifinals.

Instead, it now has a much tougher road to a gold medal.

Takuya Kai hit a walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning as Japan rallied to beat Team USA, 7-6, on Monday at Yokohama Stadium.

The U.S led 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth with one out, but Japan rallied to tie it against reliever Scott McGough. After McGough retired the first batter of the inning, Seiya Suzuki walked and Hideto Asamura singled to put runners on the corners. Yuki Yanagita followed with a high chopper to second base, and Eddy Alvarez didn’t have a play at the plate as the tying run came across to score.

Team USA failed to score in the top of the 10th despite runners being placed on first and second base to start the inning due to international tiebreaker rules, and Japan took advantage in the bottom of the frame.

Facing longtime veteran Edwin Jackson, pinch-hitter Ryoyo Kurihara laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third, and the No. 9 hitter Kai drove the first pitch he saw to the wall in right field to give Japan the victory.

Japan will play South Korea in the semifinals on Thursday. The United States will face the winner of the Dominican Republic-Israel on Wednesday.

The touted showdown between Japan and USA, the two top seeds in the knockout stage after winning their respective pools during group play, was a back-and-forth affair the entire way.

Japan jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning, but Team USA responded promptly to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth. Japan tied it in the bottom of the fourth on Hayato Sakamoto’s RBI double, but Team USA re-took the lead on a mammoth opposite-field three-run homer by Triston Casas, the Red Sox’s No. 1 prospect, in the fifth.

Staked to a 6-3 lead after Casas’ homer, Team USA failed to add on as Japan crawled its way back. Suzuki hit a titanic home run that nearly left the stadium and Ryosuke Kikuchi added an RBI single to cut Japan’s deficit to 6-5 in the bottom of the fifth.

Japan put the tying run on base in both the sixth and eighth innings, but each time Team USA’s bullpen came up big to keep the lead intact. Anthony Gose struck out Suzuki with the tying run on first base to end the sixth, and David Robertson struck out Sakamoto with the tying run on third to end the eighth.

But Japan finally broke through in the ninth off McGough and in the 10th against Jackson, moving one win away from reaching the gold-medal game.

Team USA now has to win two games to advance to the gold-medal game. It has to beat the winner of the Israel-Dominican Republic game to advance to the semifinals, and then must beat the loser of the Japan-South Korea semifinal. If Team USA loses to the winner of the Israel-Dominican Republic game, it is eliminated from gold-medal contention and moves straight to the bronze medal game.

Starter Shane Baz, the No. 15 prospect on the BA Top 100, lasted only 2.2 innings for Team USA. He gave up five hits and two runs, walked three and struck out one. Longtime Yankees standout Masahiro Tanaka made it through only 3.2 innings for Japan and gave up six hits and three runs.

Japanese pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts, including five in two innings by reliever Koudai Senga, who touched 99 mph for the top velocity of the Olympics so far.

Casas went 2-for-3 with a double, a homer, a walk, two runs and three RBIs for Team USA. Reds prospect Mark Kolozsvary went 3-for-5 with an RBI and veterans Todd Frazier and Tyler Austin each had two hits.

Sakamoto went 3-for-5 with two doubles to lead Japan. Suzuki went 1-for-3 with a homer, two walks and two runs scored and Yanagita went 2-for-5 with two RBIs.

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