Japan beat Republic of Korea in nail-biter to reach 1st Olympic final since Atlanta 1996

With one swing from YAMADA Tetsuto, the hosts took the lead in the eighth inning and hung on to win the semi-final 5-2 in Yokohama. Japan's men last won gold in baseball at Los Angeles 1984.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The wait is almost over.

Japan are one win away from capturing their first baseball gold medal since Los Angeles 1984 after defeating the Republic of Korea 5-2 in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games semi-final on Wednesday (4 August).

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the score tied 2–2, YAMADA Tetsuto hit a bases-clearing double off the top of the wall in left-centre field, scoring KAI Takuya, MURAKAMI Munetaka and KONDO Kensuke for Japan's fourth straight victory.

Having reached the final on Saturday, also at Yokohama Stadium, Japan are guaranteed a silver medal - their best finish since Atlanta 1996.

For the gold, manager Atsunori Inaba's team will face either the United States or - because of the double elimination rule - South Korea again.

Yamada said Japan's mission is far from finished despite securing a place on the podium for the first time since Athens 2004.

"It was really tight as we expected. Neither team was going to give in", the Japanese leadoff man said. "We were trading blows and I'm glad we stayed aggressive until the end."

"We've come this far. We want to win it all".

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Picture by 2021 Getty Images

A battle of grinders in Yokohama

Japan opened the scoring in the third. With one out and runners on second and third, SAKAMOTO Hayato hit a sacrifice fly that scored Murakami.

The hosts doubled the lead in the fifth when YOSHIDA Yoshitaka stroked a one-out RBI single off starter KO Young-yo to make it a 2-0 game.

South Korea however quickly struck back the next inning, capitalising on a fielding error by Japan who didn't make the most of a solid start from YAMAMOTO Yoshinobu.

Yamamoto fanned nine in 5-1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits before ceding the mound to IWASAKI Suguru.

The visitors plated two runs to even the score after left-fielder KONDO Kensuke bobbled a single by Park Hae Min to start the sixth.

"We had a medal riding on this game so there were nerves for sure", Yamamoto said. "Every team is good at this tournament. There are no easy games here.

"I just wanted to hold them down for as long as possible and get through it. I think each and every one of our fans wants us to win a gold medal. We have to go all in".

The moment of truth came in the eighth. With one out YANAGITA Yuto reached with a base hit and after Kondo grounded out, Go Woosuk loaded the bases with a pair of walks, sending Yamada to the plate.

The Yakult Swallows second baseman smoked the first pitch he saw from Go to drive in the deciding runs.

There wasn't much of a smile on Inaba's face knowing the business is unfinished.

"The game could have gone either way. We just persevered", the skipper said.

"This win is huge for us, definitely. But our goal all long has been to win the gold medal. We need to turn our sights to the final".

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Picture by 2021 Getty Images

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