U.S. begins quest for baseball gold with 8-1 win over Israel
The United States’ quest for its first Olympic baseball gold medal since the 2000 Sydney Games began Friday night with an 8-1 win over Israel at Yokohama Stadium.
Outfielder Tyler Austin went two for four with a home run and a double. Eddy Alvarez — one of two U.S. flag bearers in the opening ceremony and a 2014 Winter Olympics silver medalist in short track speedskating — collected two RBI doubles. On the mound, Joe Ryan limited Israel to one run on five hits over six innings.
The U.S., managed by Mike Scioscia, will face South Korea on Saturday. Israel, the lowest-ranked team in the six-team field, dropped to 0-2 in Group A play after dropping its Olympic debut to South Korea on Thursday.
It will face Group A’s third-place team — Japan, the Dominican Republic or Mexico — in an elimination game Sunday. The opponent will be Mexico if it loses to Japan on Saturday.
For a team making its Olympics debut, Israel’s baseball team is embracing lofty ambitions as it tries to generate more interest in the sport.
The U.S. opened Friday’s scoring with a two-out, three-run surge in the third inning. Alvarez initiated the charge with the first of his two RBI doubles. Austin then clubbed a two-run home run off Israel starter Joey Wagman.
Austin starred in familiar territory. Yokohama Stadium is home to Austin’s Yokohama DeNA Baystars, one of 12 teams in the Nippon Professional League. The 29-year-old outfielder is batting .314 with 19 home runs and a 1.017 OPS in 68 games in his second season with the club.
“It was a pretty special moment,” Austin said. “I couldn’t keep my heart rate down.”
Ryan’s only blemish was a solo home run by Danny Valencia in the fourth inning. Otherwise, the 25-year-old Ryan held an Israel lineup that compiled three home runs Thursday against South Korea silent over six innings.
It was Ryan’s first appearance since the Tampa Bay Rays traded him and another minor leaguer to the Minnesota Twins for slugger Nelson Cruz on July 22 — the day the U.S. team arrived in Japan. Ryan, who played at Cal State Northridge for three seasons, had been with the Rays’ triple-A affiliate, posting a 3.63 ERA in 12 outings.
He said he found out about the trade from U.S. outfielder Eric Filia in the dining hall at the Olympic village.
News, results and features from The Times’ team of 12 reporters who covered the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“That hasn’t really settled in yet,” Ryan said. ”I’ll focus on that on the flight back. But right now, I’m with this team.”
Americans were on both sides. Israel’s 24-man roster includes 20 Americans with Jewish roots. The four Israelis, including reliever Shlomo Lipetz, played Friday. The right-hander was part of the first Israeli team in an international competition in 1989 when he was 10 years old. He logged a scoreless inning and was welcomed with hugs in the Israeli dugout.
“Before I got in,” Lipetz said, “the thing that went through my mind was just, I hope there’s a kid in Israel in the afternoon who’s watching baseball and saying, ‘Hey, I want to do that.’”
Israel’s entry into the tournament was an unexpected victory in itself. To keep going, they’ll need another one on the field Sunday.
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