CONEY ISLAND, New York - Team Israel won the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in Brooklyn on Sunday night, trouncing Great Britain 9-1 to earn a place in the WBC main tournament for the first time.
Five Israel pitchers combined to limit Britain to four hits, and three members of the blue and white hit the first over the wall home runs of the tournament to lead Israel to victory.
Starting pitcher Jason Marquis, making his second start of the tournament, was perfect, retiring all 12 batters he faced while striking out five in four innings.
“Throughout my whole career I always try to keep hitters guessing,” the 38-year-old Marquis said. “My off-speed stuff really wasn’t sharp, but that is expected without competing in the last 15 months. I felt really good with my sinker. I had late life on it, and I had a good curveball and slider tonight. It allowed the hitters to be more off balance.”
Despite his neat four innings, the 15-year Major League veteran said he didn’t want to push it into the fifth inning.
"I didn't want to overextend myself and put my team in a hole,” said Marquis. “Could I have squeaked out a few more pitches? From my competitive side, sure. But we had some fresh arms in the bullpen very capable of getting the job done. That was a big part of our success. We have a lot of depth in pitching. And they did a great job." Winning pitcher Josh Zeid followed Marquis, tossing three innings of no-hit relief. The perfect game was broken up when Zeid issued a walk with one out in the seventh. Reliever Jeremy Bleich took over for Zeid in the eighth, and gave up Britain first hit of the game to Albert Cartwright, who went to second on an error and scored Britain’s only run on a single.
Craig Breslow got the last out in the eighth, and Israeli Dean Kremer pitched the ninth. The five pitchers combined to strike out 9 and walk only two, in front of an embarrassing total of only 2,016 fans in the largest Jewish community in the world.
Israel got the scoring started with a four-run fifth inning. Blake Gailen, hitting from the No. 9 hole, socked a huge two-run dinger to right field. Israel extended the lead two batters later after Zach Borenstein walked, when former Red Sox' catcher Ryan Lavarnway crushed a two-run shot over the left field scoreboard.
“I think we all had a lot of confidence that we would break loose in this game,” said Lavarnway. “We have all seen each other play over the years, and we know we can really hit the ball, but we haven’t shown it with only two extra base hits in the first two games, but I think we were all just waiting for it to break loose.”
Scott Burcham finished 3-for-4 with two runs, scoring the blue and white’s fifth run on Borenstein's triple in the sixth inning. Burcham hit safely in all three games, going 5-11 in the tournament.
Cody Decker blasted Israel's third home run of the game in the seventh, and Lavarnway delivered another rbi single during the team's three-run eighth inning. Overall, the team collected 11 hits in Sunday’s final.
“Coming here I felt great, and I just wanted to have fun playing ball,” said Decker. “We had a blast. Today was a real emotional day for a lot of us. Today was special and perfect. This was one of the best experiences I ever had in professional baseball. Being on this team means a lot for me.”
Israel was a perfect 3-0 in the tournament, having beaten the British 5-2 last Thursday, when they rallied for four runs in the seventh inning, and then beating Brazil 1-0 in a pitcher's duel on Friday to move into the final.
The team now joins the other 15 teams who have made the tournament. Australia, Mexico and Colombia won their qualifying rounds earlier this year to clinch spots in the 2017 WBC. The other 12 spots include Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela, which received automatic invitations based on their performance in the 2013 tournament. South Korea is among the favorites in the tournament, as are the United States, Japan, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Israel will begin play in Pool B on March 7 in Seoul, against South Korea, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei.
That round will include players from the 25-man rosters of all the Major League teams, and Israel's roster could look very different at the tournament. It will feature not only the best players from the qualifier, but also some of the current major leaguers such as Joc Pederson, Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Kevin Pillar, Danny Valencia, Scott Feldman and Alex Bregman.
Israel manager Jerry Weinstein said it will be hard to pick from among those players and telling some from the qualifying roster that they’re off the team.
“I feel very loyal to the group of guys that got us here,” Weinstein said. “Regardless of physical ability, we have an obligation to the players that made the commitment to be here for this tournament. For me as a manager, I am connected to these players, and feel comfortable taking them anywhere and playing.”