Japan wins gold in baseball, an existential crisis disguised as an Olympic sport | Tokyo Olympic Games 2020
ONs Japan celebrated its first and perhaps last title, it was time to say goodbye to an existential crisis as an Olympic sport. Why are we here? Will we ever meet again? When a fan cam scans the stands for people dancing to uptown funk in a stadium with no fans, has someone really broken a few moves?
Officially introduced in Barcelona in 1992 (softball followed four years later), baseball was dropped from London in 2012, despite nearly 120,000 people interested enough to see a two-game series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox at the capital’s former Olympic Stadium to participate years later.
Thanks to the passion of the host country, it returned for these games, but the third end for Paris 2024, where breakdancing will be on the menu and baseball and softball will not. Still, these sports, which bounce across the Olympic field like a wild lawn in the dirt, could well return when Los Angeles hosts it in 2028.
Japan’s best result so far was silver in Atlanta. Cuba has won gold three times while South Korea was victorious in Beijing. The Dominican Republic defeated South Korea 10: 6 on the previous Saturday and took bronze in Yokohama.
But while a US squad of crazy and not-wholesalers went after gold for their country’s second Olympic title in Sydney, the Major League Baseball season continued across the Pacific and underscored the bond of baseball.
It’s part of the essence of the Olympics (or at least marketing) that their events are the climax, not an afterthought. An Olympic sport without the world’s best is obviously a problem because how many people want to see that? (See also men’s soccer. Or not.) But an Olympic sport where the best in the world show up and routinely win and make every tournament seem like a foregone conclusion is also a problem. How many people want to see this? (Looks at you, basketball.)
Without baseball, however, we wouldn’t have had the chance to see minor league baseman Eddy Alvarez, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, make his way into history. The Cuban from Miami won silver as a speed skater at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. Now he’s also a silver medalist at the Summer Games, just the sixth and third American to make the double. And he was the male standard bearer for Team USA at the opening ceremony.
Without softball we would not have been able to see the fascinating sight of the 39-year-old legend Yukiko Ueno, who tossed Japan past Americans Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott to win gold medals, the three best pitchers of their era, who fight one last time in one night. Sweat mixed with it Tears.
And who could treat Japan to their joy here? The hosts, who have won all five games and have the generous former Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on their roster, beat the US 7-6 in 10 innings earlier this week. This was a better night for jugs. Japan’s 23-year-old starter, Masato Morishita of Hiroshima Toyo Carp, threw five goalless innings.
The hosts took the lead with a home run by 21-year-old thug Munetaka Murakami of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The midfield explosion came in the third inning from Nick Martinez, a 31-year-old former Texas Rangers pitcher who now trades for Nippon Professional Baseball’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The league took a break for the Olympics, allowing Japan to pick a strong roster of players mid-season.
Japan added an insurance run in run eight, with Tetsuto Yamada scoring a single from Masataka Yoshida. The USA scored six goals in the 2-0 defeat. Reliever Ryoji Kuribayashi ended the game, tournament and the sport’s Olympic status and his teammates stormed the hill and partied like there was no tomorrow.