Japan beats US 2-0, turns incredible DP to win softball gold

Jul 26, 2021, 6:46 PM | Updated: Jul 27, 2021, 12:34 pm

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — They marched single file onto the podium near shortstop with the blank expressions of the condemned.

When silver medals were handed out, they dangled them around each other’s necks like weights.

Eyes were red and damp. Perfunctory waves for the cameras were managed. Hands fidgeted with bouquets of sunflowers.

Stunned, yes. Heartbroken, yes. Most precisely: devastated.

“It stings,” Cat Osterman would say more than two hours later. “I’ve never been on a team that had so much fight.”

Just not enough.

Japan won its second straight Olympic softball gold medal, beating the United States 2-0 Tuesday night behind 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno in an emotional repeat of the 2008 victory in Beijing.

For Osterman and Monica Abbott, it was just like 4,723 days earlier.

Only worse. This likely was their final moment on their sport’s grandest stage, which the International Olympic Committee has snatched away until at least 2028.

“I challenge the IOC to instate softball as a women’s sport into the Olympic docket on a regular basis,” said Abbott, who pitched a night before her 36th birthday. “It’s been proven that we attract viewers, we’re active on social media. It’s a worldwide sport. It’s played really well in multiple continents and areas of the world, and I think it’s really difficult when you’re in an Olympics and then out of an Olympics, you’re in one and you’re out of one, to continue to build that momentum and engagement for this sport to grow worldwide.”

Ueno took a one-hitter into the sixth inning, five days after her 39th birthday, and Japan snuffed out an American rally attempt with an acrobatic sixth-inning double play that will long be replayed.

Japan led 2-0 when Michelle Moultrie singled leading off the sixth, and hard-throwing 20-year-old left-hander Miu Goto relieved.

Goto dealt Haylie McCleney, the top American hitter at .529, her first strikeout of the Olympics with a 69 mph pitch at the hands, then allowed a single to Janie Reed.

Amanda Chidester lined a rocket to third that seemed likely to drive in a run and leave two on. The ball smacked the left wrist of third baseman Yu Yamamoto and ricocheted to perfectly positioned shortstop Mana Atsumi. She stuck out her glove for a backhand spear, then made a Derek Jeter-like jump throw to second baseman Yuka Ichiguchi to double up Moultrie.

There have been other 5-6-4 double plays — St. Louis’ Nolan Arenado started one five nights earlier. But off the wrist?

“It hits you in the gut,” Osterman said. “If that goes through, we probably tie the game, maybe even go up with just the amount of momentum we would have on that alone.”

On a night of a half-dozen web gems, Reed made a leaping catch at the left-field wall to rob Yamato Fujita of a two-run homer in the bottom half.

With Goto overthrowing and her pitches flattening, Japan coach Reika Utsugi had Ueno (2-0) re-enter for the seventh, and she retired Valerie Arioto on a flyout, Ali Aguilar on a groundout and Delaney Spaulding on a foulout to the catcher, setting off a celebration on the field surrounded by 34,046 mostly empty seats in Yokohama Stadium.

“In your home country, you want to put the pitching legend back on the mound to finish the game for you,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. “And I thought it was a class act.”

Atsumi, the No. 9 batter, had a run-scoring infield hit in the fourth inning and Fujita lined an RBI single off Abbott in the fifth.

Ueno improved to 9-1 in her Olympic career, allowing two hits, striking out five and walking two.

“The coolest thing about her is is that she constantly reinvents herself and attacks hitters in different ways,” Osterman said. “It just proves that the peak age for softball players is not 22. So I think in some ways, I kind of think she’s a softball god. Things always go her way.”

Ueno had pitched a five-hitter to win the 2008 gold medal game.

“I try not to waste energy and I want to be efficient and I want to control the hitters,” Ueno said through a translator. “Having strikeouts is not the only solution.”

Reed tripled off the glove of Eri Yamada and the center-field wall with one out in the first. That was the closest the U.S. came to scoring.

Abbott and the 38-year-old Osterman were the last holdovers from the U.S. team that lost to Japan 3-1 in 2008, when Osterman gave up the first two runs and Abbott the last. The U.S. remained stuck at three softball golds after victories of 1996, 2000 and 2004.

Ueno allowed two hits, struck out five and walked two in six innings while combining with Goto on a three-hitter.

Osterman, who came out of retirement with the goal of adding a gold medal to the one she earned in 2004, allowed two hits in two scoreless innings. With six straight right-handed hitters due up in the third, Eriksen replaced the left-hander with 28-year-old right-hander Ally Carda (0-1).

Fujita lined a single off the diving attempt of Aguilar at second leading off the fourth inning, was sacrificed to second and took third on a comebacker.

Ichiguchi walked, and Eriksen went to the mound with Atsumi coming up. Carda stayed in, and and Atsumi hit a slow two-hopper to second and slid in ahead of Aguilar’s throw as Fujita scored the first earned run against the Americans in this Olympics.

“The only thing that I would maybe second-guess,” Eriksen said, “would be the fact that I could have brought Monica in a batter early on the ground ball that was hit, but then again, it was a topped ground ball. … It wasn’t like it was smokin’ Ally.”

Yamamoto singled with two outs in the fifth, and Abbott came in and threw a wild pitch, then allowed Fujita to line a single into right for a 2-0 lead.

American batters sputtered as they did throughout the Olympics, totaling just nine runs while hitting .216 with four extra-base hits and a .590 OPS. That lack of offense was the reason they watched 15 smiling and bowing Japanese players clutch their gleaming gold medals, gazing at the prizes and holding them up in pride. Japan’s flag was raised on the center pole and “Kimigayo,” the Japanese national anthem, was played.

“It was bad luck,” Eriksen said. “Tonight just was not our night.”

They thought back to the year delay caused by the pandemic, of not having a team staff from January to June in 2020.

“I’m proud of the tournament that we put on,” Abbott said, “and the involvement, engagement and the drama and the excitement that USA softball was able to show to the world on the Olympic stage.”

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

New York Rangers center Barclay Goodrow (21) and Vegas Golden Knights right wing Keegan Kolesar (55...
Associated Press

Rangers use 4-goal 3rd period to beat Golden Knights 5-1

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Mika Zibanejad had two goals and an assist, and the New York Rangers scored three times in 1:54 in the third period to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 5-1 on Wednesday night. New York’s Artemi Panarin reached 600 career points, picking up his milestone point when he found Zibanejad, whose one-timer […]
23 hours ago
FILE - Boston Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts fields the ball hit by Minnesota Twins' Luis Arraez during ...
Associated Press

AP source: Bogaerts to Padres for 11 years, $280 million

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Padres and Xander Bogaerts agreed to a blockbuster $280 million, 11-year contract Wednesday night, adding the All-Star slugger to an already deep lineup. A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the contract to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was pending a physical. The Padres […]
23 hours ago
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul drives on Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second ha...
Associated Press

Tatum, Brown lead Celtics to easy 125-98 win over Suns

PHOENIX (AP) — The hardest task these days for the Boston Celtics might be staying humble. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each scored 25 points, Malcolm Brogdon added 16 off the bench and the rolling Celtics embarrassed the sloppy Phoenix Suns 125-98 on Wednesday night. “You enjoy the moment, but you’ve got to understand why […]
23 hours ago
FILE - Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras heads back to the dugout during the team's baseball g...
Associated Press

AP source: Cardinals, Contreras agree to 5-year contract

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Willson Contreras is going to St. Louis to replace Yadier Molina at catcher, agreeing to an $87.5 million, five-year contract with the Cardinals on Wednesday. A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the move to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal was pending a physical. The addition […]
23 hours ago
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, rear, fouls Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga during ...
Associated Press

Fontecchio lifts Jazz past Warriors in short-handed matchup

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Simone Fontecchio dunked with 1.4 seconds remaining off Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s steal and the Utah Jazz beat the Golden State Warriors 124-123 on Wednesday night in a matchup of short-handed teams. “I couldn’t imagine anything like that. Just an amazing feeling, really happy and excited the way we got there,” said […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

Lawrence’s free throws give Vanderbilt 75-74 win over Pitt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tyrin Lawrence’s two free throws with 1.1 seconds left gave Vanderbilt a 75-74 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Pitt had taken the lead after Nelly Cummings capped an 8-0 run with a midrange jumper with 14.3 seconds remaining. Coming out of a timeout, Quentin Millora-Brown drove the baseline and passed […]
23 hours ago
Japan beats US 2-0, turns incredible DP to win softball gold