YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Nick Martínez stepped onto the mound, and it felt like an old familiar place.
Because it was.
“Felt comfortable the whole game,” he said after striking out nine over five innings and pitching the United States over South Korea 4-2 for a 2-0 record at the Olympics.
A right-hander who turns 31 on Thursday, Martínez (1-0) allowed one run and four hits.
He was 17-30 for Texas from 2014-17 and signed with the Pacific League’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters after the Rangers demoted him to Triple-A 13 times. He switched to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks this season and is 7-2 with a 2.03 ERA.
While Major League Baseball refused to allow 40-man roster players at the Olympics and many teams blocked top prospects from participating, Nippon Professional Baseball stopped its season, as did the Korean league (KPO).
“I'm familiar with Asian-style baseball,” Martínez said. “I've been fortunate to watch a little bit of the KBO during quarantine last year, so I was able to see some of these guys play and get some information on them. And playing at this field definitely helps.”
Scott McGough, Edwin Jackson, Anthony Gose and David Robertson finished a five-hitter for the Americans, who struck out 14.
Red Sox prospect Triston Casas hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the fourth off side-arming right-hander Ko Youngpyo (0-1), and Nick Allen went deep with a solo shot in the fifth.
South Korea, which started seven left-handed hitters, went ahead in the first after Park Hae-min led off with a three-hopper to shortstop and beat Allen’s throw for an infield single. He scored when Kim Hyun-soo, who played for Baltimore and Philadelphia in 2016-17, grounded into a forceout.
An overshifted infield, with third baseman Todd Frazier on the right side and second baseman Eddy Alvarez in short right field, likely got the U.S. four extra outs. Manager Mike Scioscia credited coach Darren Fenster with the positioning.
“Today we were able to shrink the field,” Scioscia said.
McGough, a 31-year-old right-hander, had his only big league experience in six games with Miami in 2015. He is in his third season with the Pacific League’s Yakult Swallows.
Gose reached 98.9 mph in his 1 1/3 innings; no other pitcher has topped 94.5 mph.
Robertson got the save after allowing a walk, double and Oh Jaeil's sacrifice fly.
Youngpyo (0-1) allowed one baserunner through three innings before tiring.
“I think I was consistently focusing on changeups,” he said through a translator.
Youngpyo gave up three runs and four hits in 4 2/3 innings, struck out six and walked none.
“He kept us off balance the first time around the order. We didn't have too many good looks there,” Scioscia said.
Alvarez was plunked on the left thigh leading off the fourth. Casas, a 21-year-old who was the 26th overall pick by Boston in the 2018 amateur draft, reached down for a 2-2 change on the inside corner at the knees and drove it about four rows into the right-field seats.
Casas is in his first season at Double-A Portland and will report to a series at Somerset, New York, after the tournament.
Allen, a career minor leaguer for Oakand's Double-A team in Midland, Texas, jumped on a hanging change in the fifth, driving it 10 rows into the left-field seats.
Jamie Westbrook's single chased Ko, and singles by Alvarez and Tyler Austin against Go Woosuk made it 4-1.
South Korea (1-1) faces the Dominican Republic (1-1) on Sunday.
The United States, which beat Israel 8-1 in its opener, earned Sunday off as the Group B winner and plays Group A winner Japan (2-0) on Monday night in the start of a double-elimination second stage.
“We know every game is going to be tough,” Scioscia said.
JAPAN 7, MEXICO 4
Former Central League MVP Tetsuto Yamada had four RBIs and broke open the game with a three-run homer, and Hayato Sakamoto went deep off former big league pitcher Manny Bañuelos.
Masato Morishita (1-0), a 23-year-old right-hander who is reigning Central League Rookie of the Year, allowed two runs and five hits in five innings. Ryoji Kuribayashi got three straight outs for the save.
Joey Meneses, a 29-year-old in Double-A with Boston and the 2018 International League MVP, had three RBIs for Mexico, including a two-run homer in the eighth off Kaima Taira.
Mexico faces an elimination game on Sunday against Israel (both 0-2).
Mexico starter Juan Oramas (0-1) allowed two runs and four hits in three innings.
Morishita, who pauses his windup with his left leg bent at a 90-degree angle and only then finishes his delivery, gave up an RBI single in the first to Meneses.
Takuya Kai, the 2019 Japan Series MVP, hit a tying single in the second, and Hideto Asamura chopped a run-scoring comebacker in the third for a 2-1 lead.
Yamada, the 2015 Central League MVP and a six-time All-Star, turned on a fastball at the letters in the fourth from Arizona minor leaguer Édgar Arredondo for a 5-1 lead.
Mexico had runners at the corners with no outs in the bottom half. Adrián Gonzalez, a five-time All-Star whose last big league season was 2018, brought in a run when he grounded into his second double play to go along with two strikeouts.
Samamoto homered in the seventh off Bañuelos, who had a 6.31 ERA in a big league career than ended in 2019. Yamada added an RBI single in the eighth.
Oliver Pérez, a 40-year-old left-hander released by Cleveland in May, got two outs in the ninth and did his familiar leap over the foul line.
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