Japan musters ninth-inning comeback for walk-off win in baseball's Olympic return

Posted at 1:27 AM, Jul 28, 2021

Japan won the first Olympic baseball game in 13 years inside a rain-soaked Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium, rallying from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth to walk off the Dominican Republic.

Shortstop Sakamoto Hayato produced the decisive moment in the final frame with a one-out line drive to deep center, bringing home Murakami Munetaka for the walk-off RBI.

The Dominican Republic kept Japanese bats quiet for eight innings, carrying a 3-1 lead into the final frame. Closing pitcher Jairo Asencio retired the first batter he faced but allowed the next three hitters to reach base with singles, including for Japan's second run.

The host nation tied things up with on a suicide squeeze play, and rather than take the sure out at first base, Dominican first baseman Jose Bautista threw home as Genda Sosuke slid in safely.

Asencio was pulled from the tie game, but ended up with the loss after Murakami, who he put aboard, scored the game-ending run.

Both starting pitchers matched each other inning-for-inning going six scoreless frames. Cristopher Mercedes of the Dominican Republic struck out seven and allowed three hits, while Japan's Yamamoto Yoshinobu – getting the start over former MLB All-Star Masahiro Tanaka – struck out nine and allowed just two hits.

Both teams will play Mexico to round out an abbreviated pool play round before advancing to a double-elimination knockout stage.

In addition to marking baseball's return to the Olympics, the game was also significant for its venue. Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium is located in Fukushima Prefecture, which was devastated by an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011. Holding the first game of the Olympic baseball tournament there, even in the absence of fans, was meant to commemorate the recovery efforts of the past decade in the region.

All further games of the tournament will take place at Yokohama Baseball Stadium, closer to Tokyo.