Olympic baseball: Young pitchers lead Japan to first gold as vets take backseat
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Young pitchers from Nippon Professional Baseball in the biggest game of their careers led Japan to a first Olympic gold medal in the sport with a 2-0 win over the United States on Saturday.
The dominant performance followed coach Atsunori Inaba trusting the up-and-comers with all on the line despite having better-known names available on the roster.
“They pitched a hell of a game,” said U.S. third baseman Todd Frazier. “They got first-pitch strikes. It just wasn’t our day at the plate. There’s no other way around it. No excuses.”
Japan came into the Games with a younger pitching corps than when they finished fourth at Beijing 2008, baseball’s last Olympics appearance.
Masato Morishita, 23, last year’s rookie of the year in NPB, started the game and pitched five scoreless innings for Japan. The winning pitcher, he allowed just three hits and struck out five.
Veterans on Japan’s pitching staff include former New York Yankees star Masahiro Tanaka, 32, and one-time dominant NPB closer Yasuaki Yamasaki, 28.
Mid-career pitchers Koudai Senga, 28, and Suguru Iwazaki, 30, had one hitless inning each and Hiromi Itoh, 23, another rookie, surrendered two hits but no runs in an inning himself.
Ryogi Kuribayashi, 25, also in his first year, saved the game with a one-hit ninth inning. In total, Japan’s pitchers produced eight strikeouts and threw 150 pitches to shut down the U.S. lineup.
Kuribayashi, a closer for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, set a rookie record for pitching 14 scoreless games in May and he eventually extended that record to 22.
“Every pitcher had a strong determination not to allow runs and the fielders offered very solid defense,” Japan coach Atsunori Inaba said. “We played with tenacity and we won.”
The U.S. finished the six-team, 16-game tournament second to South Korea in runs scored and tied with Japan for fewest runs allowed.
The U.S. played six games in all and Japan five. Japan finished with more strikeouts and fewer walks and hits allowed.
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