Yokohama – Samurai Japan’s flair for the dramatic is keeping it on the path to a gold medal.
Japan tied its game against the United States on Yuki Yanagita’s RBI groundout in the ninth inning and won it on a sayonara single by Takuya Kai in the 10th in the knockout stage of the Tokyo Olympics baseball tournament at Yokohama Stadium on Monday.
“No one gave up and we just kept fighting and I think that’s why we were able to win,” Kai said.
The win sends Japan into the semifinals and a matchup against South Korea on Wednesday.
The U.S. drops into the losers’ bracket and will meet the winner of Tuesday’s contest between the Dominican Republic and Israel on Wednesday.
“It was a good battle, and unfortunately we didn’t come out on top,” U.S. third basemen Todd Fraizer said. “Whoever it is we do face, we’ll put our best foot forward.”
The contest marked the international return of Japan starter Masahiro Tanaka, who had not pitched for the national team since the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Tanaka would not have been eligible to play had the Olympics been held last year as planned, as he was on the New York Yankees’ 40-man roster.
His return to NPB with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles this year opened the door for his return to Samurai Japan. Tanaka pitched well at the outset, racking up strikeouts and pitching around doubles by Tyler Austin in the first and Eric Filia in the second.
Tanaka ran into trouble in the fourth, giving up an RBI double against Todd Fraizer, a run-scoring single to Mark Kolozsvary and an RBI double to Nick Allen before being pulled with two outs.
He was charged with three runs on six hits in 3½ innings. Tanaka struck out six, walked one batter and hit another.
“I couldn’t produce good results today, but the team had a great atmosphere until the end and we stayed focused on coming back and winning,” Tanaka said.
Hiroshima Carp rookie Ryoji Kuribayashi retired the side in order in the 10th to earn the win in relief as he continues to see his splendid NPB performance carry over to the Olympics. The 25-year-old has two wins and a save in three scoreless innings in his first stint with Samurai Japan.
Edwin Jackson took the loss for the Americans.
Hayato Sakamoto had another good day at the plate for Japan with a pair of doubles among his three hits. Yanagita, Asamura and Masataka Yoshida each finished with two hits.
Austin, the U.S. designated hitter and DeNA BayStars slugger, had a pair of hits in his home park and Triston Casas had a three-run homer for the U.S. that made the score 6-3 in the fifth.
After slipping past the U.S, Japan can now look ahead to a semifinal tilt against its Asian rival South Korea.
“They have a lot of strong players, both pitchers and hitters,” Tanaka said. “I believe they also won via the mercy rule in their last game. They definitely have momentum, so I think they’re in a great condition right now.”
Japan won on the final hit of the game for the second time in these Olympics. The team needed a three-run rally in the ninth inning, capped by a sayonara hit from Sakamoto, to beat the Dominican Republic in its first game on Wednesday in Fukushima.
“They’re a good team,” Fraizer said. “We had them on the ropes and we just couldn’t finish.”
The Japanese entered the ninth on Monday down 6-5. Seiya Suzuki, who homered in the fifth, drew a one-out walk and went from first to third on a single by Asamura. That brought up Yangita, who hit a grounder to the right side that was enough to get Suzuki home to tie the score.
Kuribayashi took the mound for the 10th with runners on first and second — as per the rules for extra innings during the Olympics. He struck out Fraizer and retired Filia on a groundout that allowed a runner to reach third. Kuribayashi got the final out on a fly ball to keep the score knotted at 6-6.
Pinch hitter Ryoya Kurihara started Japan’s half of the 10th with a bunt that moved both runners over.
Kai then connected on the first pitch he saw from Jackson, lacing a single to right that brought home Yanagita as the winning run.
“The players never gave up and they gave it their all,” Japan manager Atsunori Inaba said.”
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