Team USA again loses softball gold medal to Japan

TOKYO – It was the first Olympic softball gold medal game in 13 years. It was the last one that is currently guaranteed. It was a rematch from the last time the sport was played on this stage.

For Team USA, Tuesday night at Yokohama had all the trappings of a redemption story. The U.S. entered the night 5-0 in the Olympics, having won the previous two games in walk-off fashion. And then they wilted, losing 2-0 to Japan. Less redemption and more deja vu.

The U.S. took home gold in softball’s first three Olympics. Then, in 2008, Team USA. faced Team Japan in Beijing. A then-25-year-old Cat Osterman allowed two runs in the first five innings. A then-23-year-old Monica Abbott took over in relief and gave up another run. The U.S. lost 3-1, taking home their first silver medal. Japan took gold.

A 26-year-old Yukiko Ueno pitched the entire game in 2008. It capped a two-day, 28-inning performance from her.

Over a decade later, the U.S. entered the gold medal game. Osterman, now 38, started. Abbott, now 35 (her birthday is tomorrow), closed it out. In between, 28-year-old Ally Carda.

And on the mound for Japan? Ueno, now 39.

She was lights out, as was 20-year-old Miu Goto, who took up softball after being inspired by the ‘08 team that took home gold. And in a pitching duel full of defensive web gems emblematic of the low-scoring style of play that’s defined Olympic softball this summer, two runs was more than enough.

The Japanese lineup was relentless against the stellar American aces — putting a runner on in every single inning and pushing across a run on Mana Atsumi’s single in the fourth and another on Yamato Fujita’s single in the fifth. USA, which has not scored more than two runs in a game this Olympics, managed just three hits.

Softball and baseball made it back into the Olympics this year on the virtue of Japan’s affinity for the sports; it’s already been decided that they will not be featured at the Paris Games in three years. They’ll likely, hopefully, be back when L.A. hosts in 2028. It would help if baseball could be bothered to collaborate instead of compete.

That’s seven years from now. Even if softball is back, Osterman and Abbott won’t be.

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