Olympics-Baseball-Japan book spot in gold-medal game, Dominican Republic to play for bronze
The Dominican Republic's baseball team will head to Saturday's bronze-medal game after falling 3-1 on Wednesday to the United States, which earned a chance to punch an upgrade to the gold-medal contest.
YOKOHAMA, Japan -Japan are going to baseball's gold-medal game and Dominican Republic will play for the bronze, with their opponents to be decided on Thursday based on a battle between the United States and South Korea.
Japan's golden ticket came after Tetsuto Yamada doubled in three eighth-inning runs for the Olympic hosts to set up the 5-2 victory over South Korea on Wednesday.
But South Korea may have a gripe on their hands over a call that did not go their way.
The Japanese rally started after Kensuke Kondoh safely reached first base on a fielder's choice, but South Korea said that he missed touching the base. Umpires reviewed replays and maintained their call.
South Korea now face relegation to the bronze-medal game if they lose to the United States, which beat the Dominican Republic 3-1 earlier on Wednesday to earn a chance at an upgrade to Saturday's gold-medal game under the tournament's unusual format.
The results ensure one of the six-team tournament's three favourites will claim gold. The United States and South Korea each have one gold from baseball's five Olympic appearances. Japan's best was silver in 1996. Cuba, which won the other previous golds, failed to qualify for these Games.
Starting pitchers Ko Young-pyo of South Korea and Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Japan allowed two runs each.
South Korea reliever Go Woo-suk cracked in that eighth-inning Japanese rally, while three bullpen arms shut the game for Japan without allowing any more runs.
In the earlier match-up, U.S. first baseman Triston Casas smacked his third home run of the game, a two-run blast off of Boston Red Sox minor league teammate and Dominican starter Denyi Reyes.
Casas had also homered in his one previous at-bat against Reyes during a Red Sox scrimmage last spring - a video of which the slugger showed to Reuters on his phone.
U.S. starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, who came out of a surfing-filled retirement from professional baseball for the Games so his young children could watch him play, threw five scoreless innings.
"He may not be throwing as hard as he used to," said Dominican Republic left fielder and former Major Leaguer Jose Bautista. But "he showed that guys like him can still go out there and compete."
Frustrating balls-and-strikes calls, 32 degrees Celsius (89.6°F) temperature and having to play just 14 hours after eliminating Israel in a 7-6 battle all wore on Dominican Republic.
But their top batter, Julio Rodriguez, who on Wednesday was held hitless for the first time during the Games, rejected excuses.
"There's nobody to blame but us," he said.
Dominican second baseman Gustavo Nunez has an oblique muscle strain and will miss the bronze match, coach Hector Borg told Reuters. With outfielder Emilio Bonifacio's still nursing an ailing hamstring, their back-up catcher could be their lone bench player for the medal game.
Dominicans said they felt pressure to win a medal.
"We got to push all of our chips to the centre of the table because there's no tomorrow," Bautista said.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Bill Berkrot)