Israel’s perfect run through the World Baseball Classic crashed to an ugly end with a 12-2 loss to the Netherlands in the second game of the second round in Tokyo. But the loss Monday, March 13, did not halt Israel’s dreams of global baseball glory.
The loss left Team Israel with a 1-1 record in the second round’s four-team round robin and put more pressure on the final game against Japan at 6 a.m. Wednesday, March 15. But, depending on what happens in the Cuba-Netherlands game at 10 p.m. Tuesday, even a loss to Japan might not eliminate Israel — and a win might not guarantee a place among the final four teams in Los Angeles.
After beating Cuba 8-5 on Tuesday morning, Japan led Pool E with a 2-0 record, having beaten the Netherlands 8-6 in 11 innings on Sunday, while Israel and the Netherlands each were 1-1. Cuba, which lost 4-1 to Israel during Purim on Saturday night, was 0-2.
Israel is rooting for Cuba to beat the Netherlands in those teams’ final game of the round; that would make each of them 1-2 and would clinch advancement for Japan. Then Israel also would advance by beating a Team Japan with nothing but perfection to play for. If Israel lost, it would finish in a three-way tie for second at 1-2, and its fate would depend on tiebreakers.
In such a situation, the team that has given up the most runs would be out, and the other two teams would play one elimination game. Giving up 12 runs to the Netherlands hurts Israel, but after two games each and not counting extra innings, Israel had allowed 13 runs; the Netherlands, eight; and Cuba, 12. A high-scoring Cuba-Netherlands game would give Israel a better chance; regardless, Israel will take the field Wednesday knowing exactly what it needs.
If the Netherlands wins Tuesday night, Israel will have to win to create a three-way tie at 2-1. The team having allowed the fewest runs, most likely the Netherlands, would advance, and the other two would play an elimination game Thursday. So if the Dutch beat Cuba, Israel likely will need to beat Japan twice in two days.
As long as Team Israel stays alive, it remains one of the best stories of the fourth edition of the quadrennial WBC, which typically doesn’t draw much more interest in the United States than it does in Israel.
Team Israel has played only one Israeli, pitcher Dean Kremer, a Dodgers minor-leaguer. It’s a team composed of Jewish Americans who are former or want-to-be major-leaguers. They aren’t good enough to play for Team USA — Ian Kinsler and Alex Bregman, for example, were recruited to play for Israel but chose the United States instead. It’s a team with a life-size, stuffed Mensch on a Bench as its mascot.
Team Israel removes its baseball caps and dons blue kippot during the playing Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva,” before each game. Players participated in a dugout reading of Megillat Esther before the game against Cuba on the night of Purim.
Former Braves have continued to play key roles for Team Israel:
- Pitcher Jason Marquis, who has been out of baseball since being dropped by the Cincinnati Reds in the spring of 2015 but played in Atlanta from 2000 to 2004, has been the ace on the mound for Israel. He started and pitched three shutout innings in the tournament-opening, extra-inning 2-1 win over South Korea and shut out the Netherlands in the first inning of a 4-2 win to end the first round. He then pitched 5 2/3 innings against Cuba to start the second round, giving up a solo home run to Alfredo Despaigne but little else in Israel’s 4-1 victory.
- Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who played part of the 2015 season with Atlanta and was a member of the Gwinnett Braves in 2015 and 2016, was named the MVP of the four-team Pool A in Seoul, where he was 5 for 9 with three walks, three RBI, two runs, one home run and one runner thrown out trying to steal second. He continued his hot hitting against Cuba, going 2 for 4 with an RBI; he also threw out another runner trying to steal second. But he cooled off in the rematch against the Netherlands, going 0 for 2.
- First baseman Nate Freiman, who signed with the Braves in December 2015 and was traded to the Nationals during spring training in 2016, had Israel’s lone bright spot in the 12-2 loss to the Netherlands with a home run off ex-Brave Jair Jurrjens, who otherwise was dominant. Freiman also smashed a three-run home run against Taiwan during the first round, when he hit .333 with a 1.167 OPS.
- Relief pitcher Danny Burawa, who was called up to Atlanta in September 2015 and pitched well but was optioned to the minors and eventually released by the Mississippi Braves in 2016, had a shutout inning in a 15-7 win over Taiwan in the first round, then was hammered for four earned runs on a walk and three hits, including a towering home run by Didi Gregorius, in the loss to the Netherlands.
The single-elimination championship round is March 20 to 22 at Dodger Stadium.