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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