When baseball returns to the Olympics next summer, the United States might not be there. The American team failed to clinch a spot in the 2020 Olympics during the WBSC Premier 12 tournament this month. The U.S. lost to Mexico in a thrilling bronze medal game Sunday afternoon in Tokyo (MEX 3, USA 2).
The U.S. took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning but closer Brandon Dickson, a former Cardinals right-hander who has played in Japan since 2013, allowed a game-tying solo home run to former Padres and Brewers minor leaguer Matt Clark. Dickson and Clark were teammates with the 2016 Orix Buffaloes in Japan.
The Premier 12 tournament uses international tiebreaker rules, so each team started the 10th inning with runners on first and second bases with no outs. After the U.S. failed to score in the top half, Mexico pushed across a run on former big-league utility man Efren Navarro's walk-off bloop single in the bottom of the 10th. Mexico has qualified for the 2020 Olympics.
Angels outfielder Jo Adell, , opened the scoring at the Tokyo Dome with a first-inning, opposite-field solo home run against Rays minor-league righty Arturo Reyes. Despite the Americans' loss, Adell was the star of the Premier 12, going 13 for 33 (.394) with three homers in eight games, and making several spectacular defensive plays as well.
The U.S. did not make things easy on itself even before Dickson's blown save. It lost two of its first three games in the round robin Super Round (the Premier 12 second round) and needed all the following to happen just to have a chance to play for an Olympic berth:
- Japan beats Mexico (JPN 3, MEX 1)
- USA beats Chinese Taipei (USA 3, TPE 2)
- Korea beats Mexico (KOR 7, MEX 3)
- Chinese Taipei beats Australia (TPE 5, AUS 1)
All that happened and the U.S. was in position to beat Mexico on Sunday to punch its ticket to the 2020 Olympics. Instead, the Americans are going home after a gut punch of a loss. They can still secure an Olympic berth at the Americas Qualifying Tournament in Arizona in March, or at the Final Qualifying Tournament in Taiwan later that month.
The U.S. will be part of an eight-team field in the Americas Qualifying Tournament with Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The winner gets an Olympic berth and the second- and third-place teams secure berths in the Final Qualifying Tournament.
The Premier 12 tournament is a World Cup style event put on by the World Baseball Softball Confederation every four years, and this year it served as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympics. Premier 12 rosters consist of non-40-man roster players. In addition to top prospects like Adell, the U.S. roster also featured big-league journeymen such as Clayton Richard and Erik Kratz.
Baseball and softball will return to the Olympics in 2020 following a 12-year hiatus. Israel, Japan, Korea and Mexico have already secured Olympic berths. The final two spots will be decided at the Americas Qualifying Tournament and Final Qualifying Tournament in March. The 2020 Olympics begin July 24 in Tokyo.