A U.S. baseball player brings some inside information to his team’s gold medal game against Japan.
TOKYO – During the baseball season, Tyler Austin plays his home games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium as part of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, a top professional league team in Japan.
And now, in the United States baseball team at the Olympics, this stadium is also Austin’s home.
This familiarity – not only with his surroundings, but also with opposing pitchers – helped Austin, 29, a former Yankees prospect, propel the United States to the gold medal game on Saturday night. The Opponent: Japan, a team made up of the same players Austin faces in the professional league the rest of the year.
The experience served him well. In the tournament’s five games, Austin, a designated hitter, beat a top team 0.429 (9 for 21) with two homers and seven RBIs.
With the Baystars this year, Austin’s second with the team, he’s having an even better season than the last. He’s hitting .314 with 19 homers and 49 RBIs in 68 games. He credited his wife with developing an off-season training and nutrition plan that he said had helped him regain his strength after losing too much weight last year.
Because the Nippon Professional Baseball League, unlike Major League Baseball, is taking an Olympic break, Austin was able to play for the United States. But that’s also why Japan are the favorites to win their first Olympic gold in baseball and are the only undefeated team in the tournament.
“These are definitely the best guns they have here,” Austin said of Japan’s pitching staff.
Since most of his teammates had never faced most of the Japanese weapons entering the Olympics, Austin tried to serve as a resource for them beyond just video. “Any little bit of information I can give – I’m trying to do my best to give the best possible screening report,” he said.
It could help: Overall, the US is at 0.247 – behind South Korea (0.294) and Japan (0.288) – but leading in stroke percentage (0.434) coming in on Saturday. (The strength of the United States has been their pitching: their collective earned-run average of 2.18 is more than a whole point better than the next best team.)
Austin will again have to scout for his teammates ahead of the gold medal game: Japan will start Masato Morishita, the 23-year-old right-hander who is one of the NPB’s top talents on Hiroshima Toyo Carp. In a 7-4 win over Mexico earlier in the tournament, Morishita allowed two runs in five innings and struck out three batters.
“I’ve played against Morishita a few times,” Austin said. “I hope I can give a pretty good screening report on Saturday.”
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