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Mexico snatches Olympic baseball spot from U.S., which must now wait

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The U.S. was three outs from clinching a spot in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years. Instead, Mexico will play for an Olympic baseball medal for the first time, forcing the Americans to wait until March.

The Mexicans scored once in the ninth inning and walked off in the 10th, taking a winner-goes-to-the-Olympics game 3-2 at the Premier12 at the Tokyo Dome on Sunday.

Mexico joined Japan, Israel and South Korea in the six-team 2020 Olympic baseball tournament. Baseball returns to the Games in July for the first time since it was voted off the Olympic program following the 2008 Beijing Games. Baseball will not be on the Paris 2024 program but could return again for Los Angeles 2028.

Mexico, managed by former MLB infielder Juan Castro, rallied to deny what would have been an improbable U.S. run to the lone Olympic berth available for teams from the Americas at Premier12.

The U.S. needed four straight game results to go its way to remain in Olympic qualifying contention. From Wednesday through Saturday, the U.S. beat Chinese Taipei, Japan and South Korea beat Mexico and Chinese Taipei beat Australia.

On Sunday, the Americans were up 2-1 in the ninth inning. They were in prime position to qualify for the Olympics for the fifth time in six tries since it was added as a medal event in 1992.

Then Mexican designated hitter Matt Clark, who played for the U.S. at the 2011 Pan American Games and for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, smacked a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth. In extra innings, runners are placed on first and second to start each half-inning. Efren Navarro ended the game in the 10th on a walk-off single.

While Mexico celebrates its first Olympic baseball berth, the U.S. focus shifts to an Americas qualifier in March in Arizona (and, if necessary, a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei).

The roster at Premier12 included many double-A and triple-A prospects, but it remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

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U.S., Mexico face off for Olympic baseball berth

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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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U.S. beats Japan in Olympic baseball qualifier, may still need help

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The U.S. handed Japan its first loss in the Premier12 global Olympic baseball qualifier, at the Tokyo Dome no less, but now the Americans must root for the host nation.

The Americans, with a roster mostly of Double-A and Triple-A players, won 4-3 over a Japanese team that includes some of its domestic league’s biggest stars like two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru and veteran shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.

Outfielder Jo Adell, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect on the U.S. team, starred by reaching base four times with a home run.

Japan is already qualified for baseball’s Olympic return as the host nation.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a sense of urgency at Premier12, the first of a possible three tournaments in which it could clinch an Olympic spot.

At Premier12, the top-ranked nation from North and South America qualifies for the Olympics. The tournament is at the super-round stage of the final six teams, and two are from the Americas: the U.S. and Mexico.

The top four nations after each has played five games advance to gold- and bronze-medal games.

Mexico already beat the U.S. and ran its super-round record to 3-0 on Tuesday, clinching a spot in the medal round.

The U.S. moved to 1-2 in the super round on Tuesday and must at least get into the same medal-round game as Mexico to keep its hope of finishing as the top team from the Americas.

Japan could help, since it plays Mexico on Wednesday. If Mexico beats Japan, the Mexicans clinch a spot in the gold-medal game, which would put more pressure on the U.S. to win its last two games (vs. Australia on Wednesday and Chinese Taipei on Friday). Even then, South Korea would get into the gold-medal game if it wins out.

If the U.S. is not the top team from the Americas at Premier12, it can still earn an Olympic berth in March. But then it faces trying to come up with a roster at the end of MLB’s spring training rather than during the offseason. MLB teams may be less inclined to release minor leaguers.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

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