A game for a bronze medal provides just as much pressure and emotion as a gold medal contest. In the latter, at least the loser will earn a silver medal. A bronze medal game is a true ‘winner takes all’ contest: lose and you go home empty-handed. With both teams determined to avoid that fate, the United States and Japan produced an enthralling game in which the Americans ultimately prevailed by a final score of 8-4.
The U.S. entered the game having been soundly beaten by Cuba in their semi-final; however they could cling to a psychological advantage over Japan owing to their 4-2 victory against their bronze medal opponents in the preliminary round of the competition. The teams looked to be evenly matched in every other respect and this was borne out during the early stages of the game.
After Oakland A’s prospect Brett Anderson struck out Japan’s lead-off batter to begin the contest, Masahiro Araki responded with a solo home run to give Japan an early 1-0 lead. The U.S. hit back in the second inning when Cleveland Indians prospect Matt LaPorta blasted a solo home run of his own to tie the game at 1-1. Once again, this provoked an immediate response at the top of the third inning. Anderson walked Shuichi Murata and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Norichika Araki brought them around thanks to a three-run homer.
The lead didn’t last long in this finely balanced affair. In the bottom of the inning, Brian Barden reached base on an error by the left fielder Sato, Jayson Nix got on base via a walk and after Terry Tiffee struck out, Matt Brown hit a three-run homer to bring the scores level yet again.
With the two teams matching each other blow for blow, something had to give. The bottom of the fifth inning provided that moment. The U.S. scored four runs off reliever Kenshin Kawakami. Taylor Teagarden, the young catcher who has played in a couple of games for the Texas Rangers this season, drove in two runs with a double before being brought home himself by a Jason Donald home run.
The result of a ballgame can often be decided by what happens in the half inning immediately after one team has plated several runs. Had Japan been able to reduce their deficit even by one run, the momentum gained by the U.S. by their four-run explosion would have been curtailed a little. As it was, the top of the sixth couldn’t have gone much better for the Americans. Brett Anderson struck out the first two batters and then Takahiro Arai could only hit a groundball to shortstop Donald, allowing him to record an easy 6-3 out to end the inning. Three up, three down; the U.S. were firmly in control and Japan were unable to recover.
As should be expected in a bronze medal game, Japan didn’t go down without a fight. Shinnosuke Abe arrived at the plate in a make or break situation: top of the ninth inning, two outs and runners on first and second. A wild pitch by Kevin Jepsen resulted in both runners advancing a base, meaning that a single would have probably cut the deficit to two runs and heaped even more pressure on the U.S. to close the game out. It wasn’t to be for Japan. Jepsen impressively regained his composure and Abe could only hit a groundball down to first baseman Tiffee, who promptly recorded the unassisted putout to get the final out.