Led by a 4-for-4 night featuring a homer from veteran slugger Todd Frazier and a strong performance from the back end of the bullpen, the host US held off Venezuela, 4-2, to capture the automatic Tokyo Olympic berth in the final game of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier on Saturday night.
Almost immediately, the US found itself in trouble in the first inning with the bases loaded, one out, and American starter Matthew Liberatore laboring. Facing Venezuela’s Carlos Perez, a .533 hitter for the tournament, Liberatore coaxed a grounder to third that Frazier snagged to start a 5-3 double play and end the game’s initial threat.
That start put the game into a rhythm as Liberatore and Venezuela’s Aníbal Sánchez traded scoreless frames in the first and second.
Venezuela got on the board in the third with a leadoff homer by Hernán Pérez that staked the world’s No. 8 to its first and only lead of the night.
The United States replied in the bottom of the fourth when Frazier, already 1-for-1 at the time, singled to center to lead off the inning and came home on a two-run blast to right by Seattle Mariners prospect Eric Filia. The shot gave the world’s No. 2 team the lead for good.
The US added a run in the fifth on an RBI double by Frazier down the left field line to extend its lead to two runs for the first time. After Venezuela got the run back on consecutive doubles by Diego Rincones and Ramon Flores in the sixth, Frazier provided the final blow. The veteran third baseman hammered his second home run in as many nights to left field.
Liberatore and Sánchez each lasted 4 2/3 innings, and the US bullpen was sturdy after their left-handed starter’s departure. Brandon Dickson allowed a run on three hits over an inning and a third before Edwin Jackson faced the minimum in two hitless innings with a strikeout.
David Robertson entered for the ninth and struck out Rincones and Flores. After walking Luis Castro, Robertson got a bouncer to Yonny Hernandez for the game’s final out. The United States’ celebration, 13 years in the making since its bronze medal in Beijing, ensued.
The US finished the Qualifier as its lone unbeaten team and becomes the fifth team to have qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Games along with Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Israel.
Venezuela will join the Dominican Republic in the final global qualifier later this month to determine the last participant in the Olympics’ six-team field.