ATHENS – Chris Oxspring outdueled Daisuke Matsuzaka as Australia dashed Japan’s hopes of winning a first Olympic gold medal in baseball with a 1-0 victory in the semifinals of the Athens Games on Tuesday.
Australia at the Olympic Baseball Center in Athens on Tuesday. Australia won 1-0 and will play in the gold-medal game.
Matsuzaka fanned all Australian starters in a 13-strikeout effort at Olympic Baseball Center, but the Seibu Lions right-hander allowed a decisive RBI single to Brendan Kingman in the sixth inning as Japan lost to Australia for the second time in seven days.
Meanwhile, Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho struck gold Monday as Japan took medals in all four weight categories in the inaugural Olympic women’s wrestling event at the Athens Games, raising its overall gold total to 15, one short of its best-ever tally.
Yoshida blew away Canada’s Tonya Verbeek in the women’s freestyle 55-kg title match and Icho rallied to beat Sara McMann of the United States at 63 kg.
Chiharu Icho, the older of the Icho sisters, got silver after losing to three-time world champion Irini Merleni of the Ukraine at 48 kg, while five-time world champion Kyoko Hamaguchi took the bronze with a victory over Svitlana Sayenko at 72 kg.
The two golds in women’s wrestling give Japan a total of 15 in Athens — surpassing its second-best take of 13 from the 1972 Munich Games. Its best haul is 16 in Tokyo in 1964.
The loss to Australia means Japan misses a place in Wednesday’s final and will now meet the loser of the other semifinal between Canada and two-time Olympic gold medalist Cuba in the bronze-medal match. Australia secured its first podium finish in Olympic baseball.
“I have to accept the fact that we lost. We needed to get the first run to get on a roll but not being able to score made the team panic. I believe all the players played to the best of their abilities. I take the blame,” Japan head coach Kiyoshi Nakahata said.
Nakahata is skippering the 24-man squad of top professional players in Athens on behalf of Shigeo Nagashima, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered in March.
Four years ago, Japan finished fourth and came home empty-handed for the first time since baseball became an Olympic medal sport in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992. Japan won the bronze at the Barcelona Games and silver at the Atlanta Games.
Matsuzaka, one of the two Japanese players making their second straight Olympic appearance, pitched on six days’ rest after winning his start against Cuba.
He was in full command against the Australians early on, but one shaky inning proved costly for the Japanese, which wasted scoring opportunities with a lack of timely hitting.
The telling blow came with two out and runners on the corners in the sixth when Kingman lined a Matsuzaka slider to right-center to break a scoreless deadlock.
“It was an important game, so I tried not to give up that first run, but I did. I regret that I couldn’t turn the tide our way,” said Matsuzaka, who allowed five hits and walked three in 7 2/3 innings.
Chunichi Dragons right-hander Hitoki Iwase got the next four outs without yielding a hit.
Japan put runners on the corners with two out in the seventh on two errors. But Jeff Williams, who inherited that situation from Oxspring, got Hanshin Tigers teammate Atsushi Fujimoto to fly out for the inning-ending out.
“The fact that I knew him and knew how I needed to pitch to him maybe helped me out a little,” Williams said.
“Apart from pitching for the Japan Series, this is as big as it gets. I have a job to do with the Tigers too, but with these guys there’s a national pride on the line. It’s a great day for Australian baseball,” he said.
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