Both teams had clinched places in the second round in Tokyo, so the Pool A game in Seoul mattered only for pride and seeding. But the victory marked another impressive perfomance by Team Israel, composed of Jewish Americans who aren’t currently in the major leagues and ranked 41st in the world at the start of the 16-team tournament.
Coach Jerry Weinstein used nine pitchers to largely silence a Netherlands team packed with big-league stars, including Jurickson Profar, Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius and ex-Brave Andrelton Simmons.
As in the WBC-opening win against South Korea, former Brave Jason Marquis, who last pitched in the major leagues in May 2015, started for Team Israel, and Josh Zeid, who played in college for Vanderbilt and Tulane, finished.
Marquis pitched one shutout inning, and every pitcher who followed threw one inning until the eighth inning, when Jeremy Bleich got into trouble with one out. Israel’s outstanding defense, which included brilliant relay plays from the outfield earlier in the game to gun down Profar and end Dutch threats, finally wobbled when third baseman Ty Kelly had a throwing error. Bleich issued a walk, and Weinstein brought in Zeid with the potential tying run at the plate in a 4-1 game.a
Zeid walked the first man he faced to load the bases, and second baseman Tyler Krieger was off-target throwing to second on a potential double-play grounder for Israel’s second error of the inning. That brought home a run and kept the bases loaded.
But in the most dramatic moment of the night, Gregorius grounded the next pitch right at Krieger, and this time Israel turned the double play to end the threat. Zeid ended the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
Team Israel again struggled with runners in scoring position, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning and scoring only one run with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth. Israel stranded 13 runners during the game.
Thanks to the pitching and defense, however, all the offense Israel needed came in the first inning. Former Brave Nate Freiman doubled in Israel’s first run, and after Zach Borenstein singled in a run, ex-Brave Ryan Lavarnway drove in the third run.
““Coming into the tournament, a lot of people thought we were huge underdogs, but we didn’t see it that way,” Borenstein said after the game.
The highlight of the game had little to do with the outcome, however: Freiman, who is 6-foot-8, drew a walk against 7-foot-1 Dutch pitcher Loek Van Mil in what is believed to be the tallest hitter-pitcher matchup in professional baseball history.
“I get to the box, and I look up to the mound, and this guy’s tall,” Freiman said during the post-game press conference.
Israel advances to one of two second-round, four-team round robins. The team plays Saturday night at 10, during Purim, against the runner-up of Pool B (probably Cuba or Australia), then plays the Netherlands at 6 a.m. Monday and the Pool B winner (probably Japan) at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
“Just being around guys with similar background, it helps bring us together a little bit quicker,” Borenstein said in explaining the team’s success. “We share a heritage and are representing a people. It’s a very exciting time for us.”