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Team USA clinches berth in Medal Round




BEIJING — Dexter Fowler (Atlanta, Ga.) went 3-for-3 with a triple and an RBI double, and John Gall (Stanford, Calif.) added a solo home run as the U.S. Olympic baseball yeam earned a spot in the medal round with a 4-2 win over Chinese Taipei on Tuesday evening.

U.S. starting pitcher Brandon Knight (Oxnard, Calif.) worked 6 1/3 innings and allowed two runs — one earned — on five hits to pick up the win. Team USA concludes round-robin action on Wednesday evening versus Japan. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. local time (7 a.m. EDT) at the Wukesong Main Field. Through six games, the U.S. and Japan are tied for third place with both owning 4-2 records.

In his second start of the Olympics, Knight was effective early as he struck out five of the first seven batters he faced. Although he did not record a strikeout after the second inning, he was able to battle and keep Chinese Taipei to two runs in the ballgame.

“[Chinese Taipei] was what we expected, and I was just very impressed [with them],” said Brandon Knight. “I think it is something that I have been through having played in Asia. They really do a good job of making adjustments. Their scouting is second to none, and they really pay attention to what is going on. The first time through the order, I was able to make some good pitches and get some swings and misses. But they made the adjustment. They started taking some good pitches and taking some good swings on others. I was impressed but I also wasn’t surprised.”

After setting down Chinese Taipei in the sixth inning, the U.S. grabbed its first lead of the game with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the sixth to take a 3-1 lead with Chinese Taipei starter Wen-Hsiung Hsu getting pulled in the process. Gall struck first for Team USA as he launched a solo homer to left field, his first homer of the Olympics. A walk then to Lou Marson (Scottsdale, Ariz.) ended the night for Chinese Taipei starter Wen-Hsiung Hsu as Chinese Taipei went to the bullpen for reliever Chen-Chang Lee. Marson was sacrificed to second base and scored as Fowler recorded his third hit of the night with an RBI double down the left-field line.

Chinese Taipei got a run back in the seventh inning when Chih-Sheng Lin hit a solo homer off of Knight to cut Team USA’s lead to one run. The U.S., however, got the run back in the eighth inning when Gall recorded his second hit of the night, a leadoff double, and scored on a one-out single from Jason Donald (Fresno, Calif.).

In the late innings, the U.S. received stellar pitching from the bullpen, as Mike Koplove (Philadelphia, Pa.) and Kevin Jepsen (Anaheim, Cailf.) combined to shut down Taipei the rest of the way through. Koplove relieved Knight and hurled 1 2/3 perfect innings and Jepsen followed, earning a save with a perfect ninth.

“Everybody in this tournament has been good,” said Knight. “You never know what you are going to get. Everyone is playing hard and obviously we are in a tough situation, in the fact that everyone is gunning for us and giving us their best. It makes us have to be that much better.”

The bottom of the lineup — Gall, Marson, Donald and Fowler — was key for the U.S. on Tuesday, scoring all four runs and smacking seven of the team’s 10 hits. Chih-Sheng Lin led Chinese Taipei with two hits on the evening.

Chinese Taipei scored first in the game in the fifth inning with an unearned run against Knight. Chinese Taipei’s Chih-Sheng Lin stroked a double to left field and, after a sacrifice bunt, scored on a fielding error by U.S. first baseman Matt Brown. On the play, Chih-Wei Shih knocked a shot that got by the glove of Brown and trickled into the outfield allowing Lin to score the first run of the game. The U.S. answered in the bottom half when Fowler roped a leadoff triple to right-center and scored on Brian Barden’s (Templeton, Calif.) RBI double.

“Today was a must-win — we had to win today,” said manager Davey Johnson. “We didn’t want to back in [to the medal round]. It was a tough ballgame. Taipei threw a pitcher that gave us a lot of trouble. Thanks to the bottom of my lineup and good pitching by Brandon Knight, we managed to pull out a win. So, now the fun starts.”

Notes: U.S. outfielder Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.), through the IBAF, sent along well wishes to China’s catcher Wei Wang, with whom LaPorta collided at home plate in Monday’s game. Wang was injured and left the game on the play. LaPorta also sent along some gifts, including one of LaPorta’s personal bats and a pair of his batting gloves.

Infielder Terry Tiffee (North Little Rock, Ark.) has tied the U.S. Olympic record for doubles in a competition with six in the first five games. That ties him with Brent Abernathy, who notched six in the 2000 Sydney Games. Tiffee also twice tied single-game records for the U.S. with a pair of doubles versus both Cuba (8/14) and Canada (8/15).

Team USA also came close to setting records for strikeouts in a single game as the team set both the second highest and fourth highest strikeout totals. Stephen Strasburg (San Diego, Calif.) and Casey Weathers (Elk Grove, Calif.) combined for 13 strikeouts in a 7-0 win versus the Netherlands, a mark that tied for the second highest total by the U.S. in one game. Jake Arrieta (Farmington, Mo.), Mike Koplove (Philadelphia, Pa.), Weathers and Blaine Neal (Marlton, N.J.) combined for 12 strikeouts in Monday’s win over China.

Current Standings:

1. Korea (6-0)
2. Cuba (5-1)
3. Japan (4-2)
3. USA (4-2)
5. Canada (2-4)
5. China (2-4)
7. Netherlands (1-5)
7. Chinese Taipei (1-5)

Upcoming Schedule (all times EDT):

Cuba vs. China, Tuesday at 10:30 p.m.
Netherlands vs. Korea, Tuesday at 11:30 p.m.
Canada vs. Chinese Taipei, Wednesday at 6 a.m.
Japan vs. USA, Wednesday at 7 a.m.

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