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U.S. baseball falls to undefeated Japan in 10 innings, complicating medal quest

Ryutaro Umeno reaches out to tag Triston Casas at home plate.
U.S. baserunner Triston Casas slides into home past Japan catcher Ryutaro Umeno during the fourth inning of a 7-6 loss for the U.S. in the Tokyo Olympics on Monday.
(Gary Ambrose / For The Times)

The U.S. and Japan were the only undefeated teams remaining in the six-nation Olympic baseball tournament when they took the field at Yokohama Stadium on Monday night. Masahiro Tanaka, one of Japan’s most celebrated players, toed the rubber for the hosts. A spot in the semifinals was on the line.

In an alternate universe, the scene in this baseball-obsessed country would have been raucous as the matchup carried into extra innings. But the game, like every event at these pandemic-stained Olympics, was deprived of a stirring atmosphere.

Instead, the ballpark was mostly empty as Japan outlasted the Americans 7-6 in 10 innings on Takuya Kai’s walk-off single off Edwin Jackson.

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With the win, Japan advanced to the semifinals to play South Korea, guaranteeing a chance to play for a medal. The Americans will next play an elimination game Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s meeting between Israel and the Dominican Republic.

Japan jumped out to a 2-0 lead against right-hander Shane Baz — one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ top five prospects — before Triston Casas clubbed a go-ahead three-run home run in the fifth inning.

It was the second homer in two games for the 21-year-old Casas, the top-ranked prospect in the Boston Red Sox farm system. He clubbed it after Tanaka’s early departure. The former New York Yankees right-hander was chased with two outs in the fourth inning on Nick Allen’s RBI double. He surrendered three runs on six hits with six strikeouts across 3 2/3 innings.

Tanaka would have preferred not to pitch in the Olympics. Ideally, he would have re-signed with the Yankees during the offseason when his seven-year, $155-million contract expired. But the Yankees chose to not give him his market value. Tanaka, who didn’t want to play for another major-league team, returned to Nippon Professional Baseball’s Rakuten Golden Eagles on a two-year deal.

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Tanaka began his professional career with Rakuten in 2007. The next year, at age 18, he pitched for Japan at the Beijing Olympics.

“I didn’t come home because I wanted to participate in the Olympics,” Tanaka said in Japanese. “But I thought I would have a chance to participate if I’m in Japan. I wanted to be selected.”

Tanaka was the youngest player on Japan’s roster in 2008. The experience ended in disappointment without a medal. Thirteen years later, he’s the oldest player on the country’s roster, with a chance to take gold, a chance he didn’t envision just months ago. On Monday, despite his quick exit, the odds improved in front of empty seats.


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