Don’t even try to say that anyone expected this to happen. Israel has kicked off their first World Baseball Classic appearance ever by earning back-to-back victories over South Korea and Chinese Taipei.
I know what you’re thinking… they haven’t beaten a good team yet. That could be true, but before rushing to discredit them, lets take some time to appreciate a true underdog. They may have not faced some of the worlds’ best talent yet, but when your star player is Sam Fuld, any victory is one worth celebrating.
As most of America slept, Israel battled South Korea to open the tournament. With the game being played in Seoul, it was a home game for South Korea. The fans were into it from start to finish, but it was the long shot Israel squad that prevailed in extra innings, 2-1. The only downside to the victory? WBC pitch count regulations made sure that Israel’s top two arms, Jason Marquis and Josh Zeid, would not be able to pitch against Chinese Taipei.
The thing is, pitch count regulations can’t slow down a juggernaut like Israel. In their second game, it was their hitting that carried the load, putting up 15 runs on an assortment of Chinese Taipei pitchers. The hits came in bunches all night, as Israel posted a five spot in the seventh inning and a four spot in the first. They came up just shy of forcing the first mercy rule ending of the tournament, topping Chinese Taipei 15-7.
In the midst of all that’s gone right for Israel so far, there’s still a tinge of “what if?” in the air. Ryan Braun, Joc Pederson, and Ian Kinsler, three solid MLB players of Jewish heritage, chose not to play for Israel in the tournament. Now you could chalk that up to choosing Spring Training over the WBC, a choice that many top MLB talents make, but Kinsler in particular decided to play for the USA instead.
Things are set to get tougher for the tournaments’ early Cinderella story, as they close out group play with a game against the Netherlands on Wednesday. The Netherlands, although lacking the front line talent of some of the worlds’ top teams, was a semifinalist in the 2013 WBC. Still, the odds are looking good for Israel to advance past round one in their first ever WBC showing.
Israel had to travel a long way to get to the WBC, before physically traveling a long way to get to Seoul for pool play. Despite coming into the tournament ranked last in their group and 14th/16 overall by ESPN, the underdogs are making the most of things.
Photo Credit: nj.com