If one day Efren Navarro’s bat from the bronze medal game of the 2019 Premier12 ends up in a hall of fame somewhere, it won’t get there in one piece.
Not that it’ll matter in the least to Mexican baseball fans. Navarro and his shattered bat are going down in history regardless.
Navarro sent Mexico’s baseball team to the Olympics for the first time ever with a 10th-inning broken-bat single into center that gave the Mexicans a 3-2 win over the United States in the third-place contest at the Premier12 on Sunday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
“Very happy,” Navarro said. “Our team fought. It wasn’t going to be easy, obviously, facing USA and a lot of good prospects, future big leaguers. I know it was a great experience for them and for us as well. Just happy that I was able to come through and help our team make history and go to the Olympics.”
Mexico punched its ticket for the 2020 Tokyo Games by being the highest-placed team from the Americas at the Premier12. South Korea secured the berth for the top Asia/Oceania (excluding Japan) team on Friday. Mexico and South Korea join Japan and Israel in the six-team Olympic tournament.
“I’m very happy we were able to win this bronze medal,” Mexico manager Juan Castro said. “Very happy about this, I like this medal. I think we’re going to need to do better to be able to win the gold medal in the Olympics and we will have more confidence to be able do that.”
Mexico beat the Americans in both of their games at the Premier12.
The U.S. will have two more chances to qualify for the Tokyo Games. The first will come during an Americas qualifier in Arizona in March.
“Haven’t really given thought to what lies ahead,” U.S. manager Scott Brosius said. “But we know there’s another opportunity to qualify and you can bet that we’re going to show up and do that.”
Mexico trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth until Matt Clark went deep to center against U.S. closer Brandon Dickson to tie the score.
The two were teammates with the Orix Buffaloes in 2016. Navarro also has NPB experience, having played with the Hanshin Tigers the past two seasons.
Clark’s blast sent the game into extra innings and meant — under the tiebreaker rules — each subsequent frame would begin with runners on first and second.
Bobby Dalbec began the U.S. half of the 10th by bunting the runners over. Drew Waters was then intentionally walked to load the bases.
Mexican pitcher Carlos Bustamente struck out Alec Bohm on a forkball and got Jake Cronenworth to fly out to end the inning.
“I was given the chance to play and I was very happy I was able to seize the opportunity,” Bustamente said.
The Mexican half of the 10th also began with a bunt and intentional walk.
That brought Navarro, who had already struck out three times, to the plate with the bases loaded. He responded with one of the biggest hits in Mexican baseball history.
“I had two strikes,” Navarro said. “I just told myself, put the ball in play. Yeah, I broke my bat. Obviously for me, a hit is a hit. If you hit it hard or you hit it soft, a hit is a hit. Luckily I came through.”
Bustamente was credited with the win while Dickson took the loss.
Clark, who also drove in a run earlier in the game, was named MVP of the third-place contest.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Clark said. “To be able to do this for Mexico, the whole country, all the fans who support us all year long and being able to put together two good games against the USA really shows the world we’re not going to be pushed over.
“We’re going to come out and we’re gonna play hard in the Olympics and we’re going to try to win a medal there too.”
Jo Adell got the U.S. on the board early with an opposite field solo homer to right in the first inning. The Los Angeles Angels prospect hit safely in all eight games at the Premier12 and finished 13-for-32 with three home runs and five RBIs.
Mexico loaded the bases against reliever Daniel Tillo in the sixth and Clark hit a hard single to first to tie the game.
Andrew Vaughn got the seventh started with a single to right-center and Erik Kratz moved him over with a sacrifice bunt.
Dalbec, an infielder in the Boston Red Sox organization, hit a single up the middle that scored Vaughn and put the U.S. ahead.
The game remained that way until the ninth.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report