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Eddy Alvarez set to make history after U.S. baseball advances to gold medal game

United States' Eddy Alvarez, front, and Nick Allen embrace
Eddy Alvarez, front, and U.S. teammate Nick Allen embrace after a semifinal win over South Korea on Thursday at the Tokyo Olympics.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Eddy Alvarez had his face buried in his hands. One by one, teammates came over to pat him on the back with a few words. Alvarez looked up, crying.

The United States Olympic baseball team’s starting second baseman had reason to celebrate. The Americans defeated South Korea, 7-2, at Yokohama Stadium to advance to the gold medal game against Japan on Saturday night. They’ll play for the top spot on the podium for the first time since taking gold in 2000.

But Alvarez was thinking about the journey to that point, the sacrifices required from him, his wife and his Cuban immigrant parents to reach the doorstep. And the emotions flowed. With the Americans’ win, not only did they guarantee themselves at least a silver medal but also that Alvarez would become the sixth person — and third American — to ever win a medal at both the Summer and Winter Games.

Eddy Alvarez won a silver medal as a speedskater at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. He’s back in the Olympics representing the U.S. as a baseball player.

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“It’s been a long time coming,” said Alvarez, his eyes still red and puffy. “I didn’t know that my road was going to take me here.”

Alvarez, who was born and raised in Miami, won a silver medal in the 5,000-meter speedskating relay at the 2014 Sochi Games. The medal concluded a frustrating Olympic run where he failed to medal in his three other short track speedskating events. He fell twice and was disqualified another time.

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After that, Alvarez then transitioned back to baseball. Last August, he made his major-league debut with his hometown Miami Marlins. He didn’t envision another shot in the Olympics, to vindicate himself after feeling cheated in 2015.

“I still can’t believe it,” said Alvarez, who went 1 for 4 with an RBI out of the leadoff spot Thursday. “I know the job’s not done yet because, at the end of the day, the only reason why I came out here is for redemption, to win a gold medal.”

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He’ll have the opportunity because the Americans pounced and didn’t relent Thursday. They took in the second inning, and surged ahead with a five-run sixth without an extra-base hit.

Joe Ryan gave up a run on four hits across 4 1/3 innings before four relievers held the Koreans to one run over the final 4 2/3 innings. Left fielder Jamie Westbrook, center fielder Jack López and designated hitter Tyler Austin each had two hits. Westbrook homered. López and Austin finished with two RBI.

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Japan the only undefeated team in the tournament, awaits Saturday. The Japanese handed the Americans their only loss of the tournament — a 7-6 defeat in 10 innings Monday. They seek their first Olympic baseball gold medal since the sport first joined the Olympic program at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

South Korea will play for the bronze medal against the Dominican Republic on Saturday afternoon. The Americans, meanwhile, will take the field at 7 p.m. seeking their first Olympic baseball gold medal in 21 years against the tournament favorites on their home turf.

It’ll be a challenge. Japan is loaded with many of the country’s top players; Nippon Professional Baseball stopped its season to let them play. Alvarez, meanwhile, left the Marlins’ triple-A affiliate last month for a historic second chance. He began the Games as one of the United States’ two flag bearers at the opening ceremony. Saturday is his shot to close them with the elusive gold.

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