The reaction from the dugout said it all. Triston Casas drilled a pitch from South Korea’s Ko Young-pyo in the fourth inning on Saturday and watched as it sailed into the right-field seats at Tokyo’s Yokohama Baseball Stadium for a two-run home run.
Casas, the highly touted Boston Red Sox first baseman prospect and Plantation American Heritage alumnus, gave a yell of excitement as he rounded first base as he gave the United States its first lead of the game.
Five innings later, Team USA sealed its 4-2 win over South Korea to sweep its two games of group play at the Tokyo Olympics and put the United States on the inside track for a medal in the six-team field as the knockout stage begins. The United States defeated Israel 8-1 on Friday to begin the tournament.
Oakland Athletics shortstop prospect Nick Allen also hit a solo home run for the United States, a solo shot to left field with two outs in the fifth inning that started a four-hit, two-run rally.
But it was Casas who set the tone for the offense, breaking up South Korea’s early shutout bid by golfing Young-pyo’s pitch that was low and away on a 2-2 count for his first home run at the Olympics and giving the United States some needed momentum.
Casas, 21, is the Red Sox’s top prospect and No. 23 overall prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. He is hitting .271 with six home runs, 30 RBI and 33 runs scored in 46 games at the Double A level this season.
“[Playing in the Olympics] starts to touch the level of focus you’re going to need when you normally get through a major league season, which is a grind,” Team USA manager Mike Scioscia said before the Olympics began. “You get to a pennant race and playoffs, and you need to be able to relax and perform and Tristan has shown he could do that.”
It also backed up a quality start from pitcher Nick Martinez. The Miami native and Belen Jesuit alumnus ran into trouble early, giving up back-to-back singles and an RBI fielder’s choice to start the game, but rebounded to pitch five innings. Martinez retired 14 of the final 16 batters he faced and struck out nine without allowing a walk.
Scott McGough and Edwin Jackson, who respectively had brief stints with the Miami Marlins in 2015 and 2016, were the first two relievers out of the bullpen. McGough threw a perfect sixth, while Jackson struck out the first two batters he faced in the seventh before issuing a walk and hitting a batter. Anthony Gose threw 1 1/3 innings and David Robertson recorded the save by holding South Korea to one run in the ninth.
United States pitchers struck out 14 batters, tying the country’s single-game Olympics record set against Italy in 1992.
Eddy Alvarez, the Marlins infielder prospect and Christopher Columbus High alumnus looking to become just the sixth athlete ever to win medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics, was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning before Casas’ home run and recorded a single as part of the fifth-inning rally. Alvarez hit a pair of RBI doubles and scored two runs in the United States’ win over Israel on Friday.
With the opening-round group stage now complete, the six teams now transition into the knockout round of the Olympic tournament.
With the exception of the first game, which features the third-place team from both groups (Mexico and Israel), the knockout round is double-elimination, meaning teams have to lose twice before they are eliminated from gold medal contention.
The United States’ first knockout stage game is Monday at 6 a.m. against Japan, which also swept its two group play games (4-3 win against the Dominican Republic and 7-4 win against Mexico).
Olympic baseball schedule
Note: All times listed below are Eastern. Japan is 13 hours ahead.
▪ Saturday: Mexico vs. Israel, 11 p.m. (Game 1)
▪ Sunday: Dominican Republic vs. South Korea, 6 a.m. (Game 2)
▪ Sunday: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 11 p.m. (Game 3)
▪ Monday: Japan vs. United States, 6 a.m. (Game 4)
▪ Tuesday: Game 3 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 6 a.m. (Game 5)
▪ Tuesday: Game 5 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 11 p.m. (Game 6)
▪ Wednesday: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 6 a.m. (Game 7)
▪ Thursday: Game 6 winner vs Game 7 loser, 6 a.m. (Game 8)
Bronze medal game
▪ Friday: Game 6 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 11 p.m. (Game 9)
Gold Medal Game
▪ Aug. 7: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 6 a.m. (Game 10)