YOKOHAMA, Japan — There hasn’t been a lot of storybook endings for American teams thus far at these Tokyo Olympics. And what had all kinds of potential to be an emotional victory for USA Softball ended bitterly Tuesday night.
Japan beat the Americans 2-0 to take the gold medal in a special one off event for these games, magnifying the importance of the near miss for the U.S. players, many of whom wiped away tears after settling for silver.
As with any high-stakes softball game there were many little moments where turns of defense ended up as crucial. But the entire game was summed up in the bottom of the sixth. With two on and one out and slugger Amanda Chidester up, a moment that will be remembered for a long time by the players in this game unfolded.
Chidester hit a rocket down the third base line and it smashed into Japan third baseman Yu Yamamoto’s arm. At this point the ball could’ve gone anywhere and there was a certainty the Americans were going to get one run and maybe even two. But the ball bounded right to shortstop Mana Atsumi, who made a leaping catch and doubled off a runner for a double play that ended the inning.
The stunned looks on the U.S. faces of how that moment went down summed up the game.
The Americans had made so many great defensive plays in the game from Janie Reed robbing a potential two-run homer with a leaping grab in left field to right fielder Michelle Moultrie making a leaping catch to a brilliant play by shortstop Delany Spaulding that saved a run, they felt robbed by karma.
It ended up just another classic chapter in a rivalry that will be owned by Japan for the foreseeable future.
Softball was added to the games at host country Japan’s request and from the moment it became official this matchup seemed inevitable. Japan upset Team USA in Beijing to take the gold in 2008, the last time softball was contested and the only time the Americans didn’t win in the four Olympics they were contested.
There was remarkable symmetry and old rivalries at play. The starting pitching matchup, 39-year-old Japanese starter Yukiko Ueno against 38-year-old Texan Cat Osterman was a re-match of the 2008 gold medal game.
Ueno is a Japanese softball legend and her 413-pitch performance over the last three games in Beijing is regarded as one of the most impressive in the sport’s history. The performance Ueno gave in this one wasn’t quite the same for endurance but considering the circumstance of winning on home soil, it will be savored in her home country.
A day after losing a pool play game to the Americans when allowing a walk-off homer, Ueno gave up just two hits over six shutout innings that was the steady start her team needed.
Osterman was not as strong and was lifted after two innings. The Americans ended up using three pitchers including Monica Abbott, who like Osterman is regarded as one of the best pitchers in U.S. history.
After giving up just two runs in the entire tournament coming in with dominance on the mound, none of the pitchers were sharp. Ally Carda, who pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief of Osterman, wasn’t strong and gave up three hits and two runs and took the loss.
One came on an infield single by Atsumi and another when Yamato Fujita came through with a two-out hit for insurance in the fifth inning.
Other than the wild double play in the sixth, the only other time the U.S. threatened was in the first when Reed tripled, but was out at the plate when she tried to score on a wild pitch.