Olympics-Baseball-U.S. win relegates Dominican Republic to bronze-medal game
By Paresh Dave
YOKOHAMA, Japan, Aug 4 (Reuters) - The Dominican Republic's baseball team will head to Saturday's bronze-medal game after falling 3-1 on Wednesday to the United States, which earned a chance to punch an upgrade to the gold-medal contest.
The U.S. squad now face the loser of Wednesday's game between Japan and South Korea in a tussle on Thursday to decide which of them will go to the gold medal game instead of the one for bronze. The winner in the Japan-South Korea contest claims the other spot in the championship finale.
In the Dominican Republic game, U.S. first baseman Triston Casas smacked his third Games' home run. The two-run blast came off Boston Red Sox minor league team mate and Dominican starter Denyi Reyes.
Casas also homered in his one previous at-bat against Reyes, which came during a Red Sox scrimmage last spring - and which the slugger proved by showing Reuters a video on his phone.
Success at the Games emanates from a focus on winning, Casas said.
"At the end of tournament, no one's going to remember how many homers I hit," he said. "It's just whether we came home with that gold."
U.S. starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, who before the Games came out of a surfing-filled retirement from professional baseball so his young children could watch him play, threw five scoreless innings.
"He may not be throwing as hard as he used to, but he's got slightly better command," said Dominican Republic left fielder and former Major Leaguer Jose Bautista. "He showed that guys like him can still go out there and compete."
Bautista's long third-inning lead from third base led to a balk on Kazmir for a run, but umpires immediately reversed their call and the run.
Umpire rulings, 32 degrees Celsius temperature and playing 14 hours after eliminating Israel in a 7-6 battle all wore on Dominican Republic.
But their top batter, Julio Rodriguez, who on Wednesday was hitless for the first time during the Games, rejected excuses.
"There's nobody to blame but us," he said.
Dominican second baseman Gustavo Nunez left the game with an oblique muscle strain and will miss the bronze medal match, coach Hector Borg told Reuters. Added to outfielder Emilio Bonifacio's ailing hamstring, their back-up catcher could be their lone bench player.
Dominicans said they felt from pressure to have a medal to show for their time in Japan.
"We got to push all of our chips to centre of the table because there's no tomorrow," Bautista said.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)
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