The U.S. and Mexico will play a winner-goes-to-the-Olympics game at baseball’s Premier12, a global Olympic qualifying tournament, after four straight game results went the U.S.’ way.
The game is Saturday at 10 p.m. ET in Japan.
Two Olympic bids are available at Premier12 — one to the top finishers from the Americas and Asia/Oceania, granted Japan is already in as host nation. Israel previously qualified at an Africa/Europe qualifier. South Korea grabbed the Asia/Oceania spot.
The U.S.-Mexico loser can still qualify for Tokyo at one of two tournaments next March and April.
Mexico, managed by former MLB infielder Juan Castro, beat the U.S. last week and clinched a spot in the medal round days ago. The U.S., which lost its first two games in the six-team super round, rallied to sneak into the bronze-medal game against Mexico.
From Wednesday through Saturday, the U.S. needed to beat Chinese Taipei and have Japan beat Mexico, South Korea beat Mexico and Chinese Taipei beat Australia. They all happened.
Mexico, seeking its first Olympic baseball berth, beat the U.S. 8-2 in Mexico on Nov. 3. Its starting pitcher was 39-year-old Horacio Ramirez, who played with six teams in the majors from 2003-11.
Active MLB players are not on Premier12 rosters and are not expected to be in the Olympics in July. MLB has never stopped its season to send players to the Olympics.
The U.S. team at Premier12 is mostly made up of double-A- and triple-A-caliber players.
If the U.S. loses to Mexico, things get tricky in Olympic qualifying.
It could get as many as two more chances to qualify for the first Olympic baseball tournament since 2008, but the next one is in March during MLB spring training. MLB clubs may be less inclined to release the caliber of minor leaguers that featured on the Premier12 roster.
“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.
The U.S. qualified for all but one Olympic baseball tournament when the sport was previously part of the program from 1992 through 2008, earning gold in 2000.
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