Japan wins first baseball gold medal with shutout win over United States

Posted at 4:22 AM, Aug 07, 2021


Eleven days after Japan’s softball team shut out the United States for the gold medal at Yokohama Baseball Stadium, its baseball team accomplished the exact same feat on the exact same field by the exact same score.

The host nation pitched its way to a 2-0 win over the U.S. in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 13 years Saturday. A third inning solo home run by Murakami Munetaka provided the only offense the gold medalists would need. Insurance came in the bottom of the eighth on an error by U.S. catcher Mark Kolozsvary, allowing Yamada Testudo to score from third.

Japan had never won an Olympic gold medal in five editions of Olympic baseball between 1992 and 2008, before the sport was ousted from the Olympic program. In 2015, the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee shortlisted baseball and softball – both supremely popular in Japan – as preferred events to be readmitted to the Games, even if only for one cycle.

The additions were made official the following year, at which point the dream of a golden diamond double for the host nation began to formulate. In two unforgettable evenings in Yokohama five years later, that dream crystalized into reality.

Japan went undefeated in five games in the Olympic baseball tournament, including a walk-off, extra-innings win against the United States in the second round of knockout play. The United States won its next two games in the double-elimination format to reach the gold medal game anyway.

In the first meeting, the U.S. got to star Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka for three early runs. In the rematch, with gold at stake, Japan manager Atsunori Inaba bypassed Tanaka in favor of 23-year-old Morishita Masato.

Masato, with a 1.91 ERA, is one of the bright young stars of the NPB, Japan's top professional league. Unlike Major League Baseball in the U.S., the NPB took a hiatus for the Olympics, allowing Japan to call on its top domestic stars for the Olympic team.

Masato cruised through five scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and no walks with five strikeouts to earn the win. The U.S. managed nothing better against the Japanese bullpen as Kuribayashi Ryoji secured the save.

American starting pitcher Nick Martinez, one of two U.S. Olympic team members who play professionally in Japan, took a hard loss after six innings of one-run ball. He struck out seven and allowed only Murakami's home run on the scoreboard.

In winning silver, the U.S. secured its fourth Olympic baseball medal in six Games. Second baseman and United States flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony, Eddy Alvarez, became just the third American ever to win medals at both the Winter and Summer Olympics. He won silver in short track speed skating at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.