Tokyo Olympics: Japan beats USA for first baseball gold

The previous best finish for the Japan national baseball team at the Olympics was a silver medal during the Atlanta Games in 1996.

The Japanese players celebrate after beating the United States 2-0 and winning the baseball gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.   -  Getty Images

Japan won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in baseball on Saturday, beating the United States 2-0 in the final.

The Japanese, whose previous best was a silver at the 1996 Atlanta Games, went ahead in the third inning when Munetaka Murakami hit a solo home run off starting pitcher Nick Martinez.

And Tetsuo Yamada slid home in the eighth to add another run, finally bringing the gold to a country where baseball borders on a religion.

Japan had already won in softball at the Tokyo Games, with the two sports returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2008.

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With Major League Baseball banning its players from appearing, both teams were stripped of their biggest stars including Japanese phenomenon Shohei Ohtani.

The Americans fielded a team largely made up of minor league journeymen, although former New York Yankee and current free agent Todd Frazier was a notable exception.

Japan was able to draw on players from its domestic league, and Yakult Swallow Murakami gave the team the lead with a booming home run to centre.

Yamada edged the home team closer when he slid headfirst to home plate, beating the tag after an American throwing error.

Closer Ryuji Kuribayashi then saw the game safely out, giving Japan the title and prolonging the Americans' wait for their first gold since the 2000 Sydney Games. Baseball has been dropped from the 2024 Paris Games.

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