Next Stop, Tokyo: Team USA Captures WBSC Olympic Qualifier With 4-2 Win Over Venezuela

The U.S. claims AOQ crown, berth in Tokyo Olympic Games with fourth-straight victory
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VEN 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 7 0
USA 0 0 0 2 1 0 1 0 x 4 10 2

Box Score // Plays // Overall Stats

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – The USA Baseball Professional National Team put the finishing touches on a perfect week at the 2021 World Baseball Softball Confederation Baseball Americas Qualifying Event with 4-2 victory over Venezuela Saturday evening at Clover Park, claiming one of the two remaining berths in the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games.

Todd Frazier led the U.S. attack with a 4-for-4 effort at the plate, while Team USA's pitching staff logged another strong performance in limiting Venezuela to a pair of runs.

"This whole process over the last couple of weeks has been so intense," Team USA manager Mike Scioscia said. "You're really playing elimination games every day, and our guys rose to the occasion. But bigger than that, it was such a celebration of baseball, so I want to congratulate both teams. We had tough games every time out. You had to be ready to play every game, and fortunately, our guys played well."

Frazier played particularly well against Venezuela, sparking Team USA in the field and at the plate, starting a momentum-swinging 5-3 double-play that thwarted a first-inning Venezuela threat. He recorded hits in each of his four at-bats, including an RBI double in the fifth and a critical home run in the seventh to drive in the final two U.S. runs of the night.

The 11-year MLB veteran singled in the home half of the first, then kicked off U.S. fourth with a base hit, moments before Eric Filia lofted a towering drive that cleared the right-field wall for a 2-1 Team USA lead.

Starting pitcher Matthew Liberatore gave the U.S. another strong effort to open the contest, working out of a bases-loaded jam in the first, after Hernan Perez drove a single to center on the game's first pitch. Perez struck again in the third, driving Liberatore's second pitch of the inning deep to left-center for a solo shot that gave Venezuela a 1-0 lead.

But Liberatore was up to the early challenge, inducing rally-killing double plays in the first and the third frames to keep the stars and stripes close. After Ali Castillo followed Perez's homer with a base hit, Liberatore promptly dispatched the next seven Venezuela hitters before back-to-back hits by Perez and Castillo ended his night after 4 2/3 innings.

In all, Liberatore allowed just one run and scattered four hits with four strikeouts, before handing the ball off to his bullpen.

The U.S. engineered a two-out threat in the fifth, capitalizing on back-to-back singles by Luke Williams and Jarren Duran after Anibal Sanchez struck out the first two hitters of the inning.

Frazier tormented Venezuela yet again, this time bashing a line-drive just inside the third-base bag for a ground-rule double that chased home the third Team USA run of the game.

Team USA's bullpen registered a strong performance in relief of Liberatore, as the trio of Brandon Dickson, Edwin Jackson (1-0) and David Robertson combined to hold Venezuela to one run on three hits over the final 4.1 innings. Jackson blanked Venezuela over 2.0 frames, and Robertson locked up his second save of the AOQ with a scoreless ninth.

The U.S. finished a perfect 4-0 at the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier, led by a pitching staff that allowed just 10 total runs in the four contests and limited the opposition to a .209 batting average. Team USA got it done with defense as well, as the U.S. didn't commit its first error of the tournament until Saturday's finale and finished with a sparkling .987 team fielding percentage.

"Every game was intense. Our guys did a great job," Scioscia added. "They faced some tough pitchers this week, and some really good ball clubs. This is a tough environment. You're playing five elimination games, essentially, and I thought our guys were very consistent."

Team USA moves on to Tokyo, as the six-team Olympic baseball tournament will begin on Tuesday, July 27 at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium and Yokohama Baseball Stadium. The U.S. joins Israel, Japan, Korea, and Mexico in the six-team field. The final spot in the Olympic baseball tournament will be decided following the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier in Puebla, Mexico, from June 22-26.

Team USA has qualified for all but one of the Olympic Games since baseball has been included on the official Olympic Programme beginning in 1992. The U.S. won a bronze medal in the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and a gold medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The stars and stripes did not qualify for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, but earned a spot in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where they won bronze. The U.S. also won a silver medal in 1984 (Los Angeles) and a gold medal in 1988 (Seoul) when baseball was a demonstration sport in the Olympics.

The magnitude of the opportunity to compete for Olympic Gold was apparent to Frazier, who finished the tournament with hits in his final five trips to the plate, including two critical late-inning home runs that helped seal wins over Canada and Venezuela.

"When you get an opportunity to play for the United States of America, you've got to take that opportunity and run with it," Frazier commented. "Because you're probably going to look back on your career and say that's the most fun I've ever had playing the game."