Fort the second time in 19 months, USA Baseball is one win away from Olympic qualification.
The United States eliminated Canada, 10-1, in the Super Round of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier Friday to set up a win-and-in scenario against Venezuela, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Both the U.S. and Venezuela have their ace starting pitchers available for the deciding game, setting up a potentially thrilling pitchers’ duel. St. Louis Cardinals top prospect (No. 30 overall in Major League Baseball) Matthew Liberatore will take the mound for Team USA against former World Series champion and owner of an MLB no-hitter, Anibal Sanchez, for Venezuela.
The U.S. enters the final day of the qualifier as the only remaining undefeated team. As a result, they are the only nation to control their own destiny as it pertains to Olympic qualification. A win Saturday evening guarantees that the U.S. will join Japan, South Korea, Israel and Mexico in the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament.
The U.S. has been in this situation before and will be hoping for a different result. At the WBSC Premier12 tournament in November 2019, a prior version of Team USA took a one-run lead into the 9th inning of an Olympics-clinching game against Mexico but failed to close the deal. Mexico forced extra innings with a solo home run off American reliever Brandon Dickson, then walked off the U.S. in the bottom of the 10th to steal the Olympic spot.
Only one player to participate in that game remains on the U.S. roster for the Americas Qualifier. Ironically, that player is Dickson.
The early game of the day features the Dominican Republic against already-eliminated Canada. Venezuela will be rooting heavily for Canada, as that would eliminate the Dominican Republic and clear the way for Venezuela to qualify for the Olympics with a win against the U.S.
Should the Dominican Republic and Venezuela both win, however, three teams (including the U.S.) would finish the Super Round with identical 2-1 records. A mathematical tiebreaker that essentially boils down to run differential would then be used to determine the Olympic-bound nation.
Should the U.S. fail to qualify, their Olympic hopes would not be completely dashed. The second and third place teams at the end of the Super Round qualify for the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier, a last-chance opportunity for Olympic qualification, taking place June 22-26 in Puebla, Mexico.