YOKOHAMA, Japan — The Olympic gold medal in baseball, a sport that has been absent from the Summer Games for 13 years, comes to the two largest baseball countries in the world: Japan and the United States.
In a semifinal on Thursday at Yokohama Baseball Stadium, the United States led South Korea 7-2, chasing another strong all-around performance from a roster of veteran players and young prospects. Joe Ryan, a righthanded starter, gave up one run over four and a third innings. Four relievers, led by Anthony Gose, combined for one more run the rest of the way.
The entire tournament has felt like a collision course between top-ranking Japan, which has never won a gold medal in Olympic baseball, and the United States, which won its only one in 2000. the Tokyo Games on Monday is a 7-6 loss in 10 innings against Japan.
That defeat meant that the United States had to beat the Dominican Republic and South Korea to advance to the gold medal match. Japan simply had to beat South Korea, which it did on Wednesday.
On Thursday, leading 2-1, the United States exploded for a five-run sixth inning that put the game out of reach. Mark Kolozsvary, Jack Lopez and Eddy Alvarez each drove in a run, while Tyler Austin ended the offensive outburst with a two-run single.
After the game, United States third baseman Todd Frazier said he told his teammates to get a good night’s sleep and that on Saturday, “You’re going to play the best game of your life.”
By advancing to the final game, the United States is assured of a medal, and so is Alvarez, the team’s starting second baseman. That means Alvarez, 31, will become the sixth person — third American — to win a medal at both the Winter and Summer Olympics. At the 2014 Sochi Games, Alvarez won a silver medal as part of the United States 5,000-meter relay team in short track speed skating.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said after Thursday’s game. “But the work isn’t done yet.”
After the last out on Thursday, Alvarez sat in the dugout with his head down and cried. Afterwards, he explained that he had been thinking about his path from his hometown of Miami, where his family ended up after fleeing Cuba, to become a two-time Olympian and a major league player with the Marlins last year.
“I started this journey since I was 6 years old,” he said. “I didn’t know it would bring me to become a Major League baseball player. I never thought I’d ever make it to the Olympics in baseball. I owe a lot to my family and the generations that many of their sacrificed time to move from another country and that ultimately gave me opportunities, I got emotional because this is much more than my achievements.”
South Korea, which won a gold medal the last time baseball was played in the 2008 Olympic Games, will meet the Dominican Republic on Saturday-afternoon for the bronze medal game.