YOKOHAMA, Japan — Former Twins infielder Tyler Austin will get a chance to win a gold medal for his home country in his home stadium.
Recently acquired Twins pitcher Joe Ryan will get to watch a gold medal game up close, knowing he helped make it possible.
The former and future Twins helped elevate the USA baseball team on Thursday into the gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics.
Following a 5,000-calorie-a-day offseason diet and workout program, Austin has become one of his team's best hitters. Following a life-changing trade, Ryan became one of the team's best pitchers. Together they could bring the United States a gold in baseball for only the second time.
The USA won gold in Sydney, Australia, in 2000, with a smattering of players with Twins connections, most notably Doug Mientkiewicz, who was a rising prospect at the time.
Ryan started and went 4 ⅓ innings Thursday, giving up one run and Austin went 2-for-4 with two RBI as the USA defeated South Korea 7-2 at Yokohama Stadium.
The USA will play for the gold at 7 p.m. Saturday Japan time (5 a.m. Saturday in the Twin Cities) against Japan, which won 7-6 when the teams played earlier in the tournament.
"I can't really remember being a part of a team that had this much fun together,'' Austin said. "On and off the field. We're all hanging out together after the games. It's been an unbelievable experience.''
That's factoring in the strangeness of these Olympics. What has become clear is that if you're going to compete during an Olympics, being in the Olympic Village with a lot of teammates is probably the best option.
Ryan found himself playing catch with veteran pitcher Scott Kazmir on the grass of the Olympic Village, getting tips on his changeup and being reminded of what he's accomplishing.
"I would say, yeah, it's probably the biggest game I've ever pitched in,'' Ryan said. "Mentally, the first game of the Olympics probably felt bigger for me. I think just traveling and being here on this stage. I snapped out of it after the first five minutes or so in that game, and this game I was able to walk in a little quicker and felt like I had a little bit better control of myself and was able to execute some pitches a little bit more consistently.''
Ryan, acquired from Tampa Bay in the Nelson Cruz trade, looked intense from the beginning, staring at the home-plate umpire after striking out the game's first batter, feeling the umpire had missed a call earlier in the at-bat.
Austin plays his home games in Yokohama Stadium for the Yakult Swallows, and he has been one of the USA's best hitters in this tournament. He raised his batting average to .429 with a two-run single in the five-run sixth inning that broke open the game.
In the almost-empty stadium, the Korean dugout provided most of the noise, but that enthusiasm did not lead to runs.
Ryan lowered his Olympic ERA to 1.74, throwing 74 pitches, including 47 strikes. He left the game with runners on first and third and one out in the fifth, but reliever Ryder Ryan got out of the jam with a double play grounder.
Olympic baseball is an intriguing blend of young prospects and older players who are no longer in professional baseball or playing for independent league teams.
Or playing in Japan.
Austin displayed tremendous power with the Twins but hit only .236 in 37 games. He batted .219 for four big-league teams but has looked dominant in the Olympics. He said his wife put him on a rigorous workout and diet program this winter.
"It was tough because I usually don't eat that much,'' he said.
With Austin's knowledge of Japanese players and pitchers, he will become a hitting coach for the next 48 hours.
Japan presents a difficult challenge. They are allowing their best players to play in the Olympics.
And the USA won't have Ryan available. "He will not pitch on Saturday,'' USA manager Mike Scioscia said.
"So, that's that,'' Ryan said.
He's done enough.