Yokohama – Tetsuto Yamada did it to South Korea again.
Yamada came up with another three-run hit in a big game against South Korea, connecting on a bases-clearing double in the eighth inning to help Samurai Japan move to within one win of its first Olympic gold medal in baseball with a 5-2 victory in the semifinal round of the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament at Yokohama Stadium on Wednesday.
The victory sends Japan into the gold medal game, which will be played on Saturday in Yokohama.
“I think we had a very big win today, but our goal is to win the gold medal,” Japan manager Atsunori Inaba said. “We will want to prepare one more time and be in the best condition for the final.”
South Korea will face the United States in a semifinal on Thursday. The winner of that game will meet Japan in the final, and the loser will face the Dominican Republic for the bronze medal.
Yamada is considered to be among NPB’s best all-around players and has shown why during the Olympics. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows infielder has been at the top of the lineup in all four of Japan’s games and has five hits, a home run and seven RBIs. He’s also been one of the poster boys for Inaba’s speed and power campaign, with a team-high three stolen bases.
He even dropped down a sacrifice bunt in the fifth that led to a run.
“When I was called up to the team, Inaba-san told me he might give me the bunt sign,” Yamada said. “So I’ve really been practicing my bunting since our warmup games and I have gotten more confident, so I was prepared to do it. Even though I was really nervous, I was able to give it my best.”
Yamada plays second base for the Swallows and was his usual spot in the infield for the first time on Wednesday after three games as the designated hitter.
The game was the latest in the long rivalry between Japan and South Korea. They last met in the final of the Premier12 at Tokyo Dome in 2019. Yamada hit a three-run home run in the second inning of that game, which Japan won 5-3.
He nearly homered this time as well.
With the score knotted at 2-2, left-handed hitting Munetaka Murakami was walked intentionally with two outs and a runner on first to set up a righty-righty matchup between Takuya Kai and South Korean pitcher Go Woosuk. Kai got ahead 3-0 in the count and took a strike before drawing a walk.
That brought Yamada to the plate with the bases loaded. He swung at the first pitch, hitting a fastball high off the wall — and very nearly over it — that cleared the bases to put Japan ahead 5-2.
Hiromi Ito, who is in his rookie year with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in NPB, earned the win in relief after throwing two scoreless innings. Go was charged with the loss.
“This is everyone’s win,” Ito said. “Being the winning pitcher doesn’t really matter to me. Everyone came together and I really think everyone got this win.”
Ryoji Kuribayashi, who is in his rookie year with the Hiroshima Carp in NPB, got the final three outs in the ninth to punch Japan’s ticket to the final.
Hayato Sakamoto and Masataka Yoshida each drove in a run for Japan. Yoshinobu Yamamoto got the start on the mound and was charged with two runs over 5⅓ innings. He struck out nine and did not factor into the decision.
Japan’s best finish at the Olympics came in 1996, when it won silver. The nation is trying to capture its first gold and won’t get another chance for some time, as baseball will not be included in the Paris Games in 2024.
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