Team USA and Japan compete for Olympic baseball gold


YOKOHAMA, Japan – Baseball is a runaway sport in the Olympics, but the setting of the United States-Japan gold medal game will feel familiar to two players on the US squad.

Japan will be a home game for first baseman Tyler Austin, who played in the Major Leagues for four years before signing with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, whose home stadium was baseball and softball at the Tokyo Olympics.

Also in the USA will be Eddy Alvarez, the silver medalist of the 2014 Winter Olympics in short-distance speed skating.

The US team is led by former Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a World Series veteran who now appreciates the aura of the Olympic rings.

“This tournament was as intense as anything I’ve played in 19 years as manager of the Angels, a World Series and I don’t know how many playoff games I’ve played with the Dodgers,” said Scioscia. “There is an intensity here. There is a focus.

“The bottom line is ‘USA’ on their jersey and these guys are playing for the gold medal. It doesn’t get any better than that. “

USA-Japan will be a replay of the softball gold medal game won by the host country for the first time since 2008 when the sport returned to the Olympic program. Neither sport is slated for Paris in 2024 but could return for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics in Angeles.

Right-hander Nick Martinez, a former Rangers pitcher who has played in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League for four seasons, is expected to face Japanese right-hander Masato Morishita.

Morishita won his only start in the Olympics against Mexico for a Japanese team that won all four preliminary round games, including an extra 7-6 innings win over the United States to take the gold medal.

The US defeated the Dominican Republic and South Korea in the losing class and qualified for the gold medal game. Austin had a two-time singles run in the 7-2 win over South Korea and is the only American player to bat about 0.300 with an average of 0.429, three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs in five games.

“I’ve met a lot of their (Japanese) pitchers so I will do my best to help them if I can provide information to my teammates,” said Austin. “It’s going to be a fun game. I think everyone is thrilled. “

Japan suspended league play to allow their best professionals to compete in the Olympics, and the home team won all three group games and then defeated South Korea in a semi-final to advance into the gold medal game.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows infielder Tetsuto Yamada leads Japan with seven RBIs and a batting average of 0.313. Shortstop Yomuri Giants’ Hayato Sakamoto hits .389 with four RBIs.

The game also has significance for Alvarez, beyond the medal color, who, alongside Eddie Eagen (boxing 1920, bobsleighing 1932) and Lauryn Williams (athletics 2004 and 2012, bobsleighing 2014) is the only American with summer and winter Olympics together with medals.

Alvarez, who played for the Marlins last season, was moved to tears when the US was awarded a medal. He later said he was pondering his family’s journey from Cuba to Miami and his chance at becoming a two-sport Olympic champion.

“I’ve started this journey since I was 6 years old,” he said. “I didn’t know it would turn me into a major league baseball player. I never thought I’d make it to the Olympics in baseball.

“I owe a lot to my family and the generations who have sacrificed a lot of time to move from another country and who opened up opportunities for me.”

The US roster also includes veteran Major League pitcher and current Giants Minor Leaguer Scott Kazmir, 37, who pitched five shutout innings in a win over the Dominican Republic.

David Barron reports on the Olympics for Hearst Newspapers.

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