Powered by two home runs from Nate Freiman, Israel built a 7-0 lead en route to
defeating South Africa, 7-3, in the first game of the World Baseball Classic’s
qualifying round on Wednesday in Jupiter, Florida.
Freiman, who plays
minor league Class AA baseball for the San Diego Padres organization, went yard
in the first and ninth innings.
“It’s the most people I’ve ever
represented wearing a jersey and I’m willing to bet for most people on the team,
it’s the same way,” Freiman said after the round-opening win.
see the energy in the crowd.”
Team Israel, who had hoped to employ MLB
stars such as Ryan Braun, Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler, was forced to stock
its roster with mostly minor-leaguers like Freiman after the qualifiers were
moved up to September, as the Major League season is still
“Once the qualifier was moved to September as opposed to
November, in my mind, [Freiman] was our three- or four-hole hitter,” Israel
manager Brad Ausmus said.
South Africa’s starting pitcher Dylan Unsworth
allowed just five hits while striking out six over six innings, drawing high
praise from Ausmus and the rest of his crew, but Team Israel’s pitchers,
including starter Eric Berger, stifled South Africa’s lineup for most of the
“He came right at us,” Ausmus said of Unsworth.
strikes. He wasn’t intimidated.
“It was a very tight ballgame for the
great majority of it.”
Reliever Josh Zeid kept the momentum in Israel’s
favor. Zeid, who played this year with Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros
organization, entered in the bottom of the sixth with runners at second and
third with one out, a onerun lead and the heart of South Africa’s lineup due
Zeid struck out three-hole hitter Jonathan Phillips, intentionally
walked Shannon Ekermans and induced an infield popout from Brett Willemburg to
escape the jam and allow the entire Israeli roster to breath a sigh of
“Huge difference. Not only is it a big difference in terms of the
scoreboard, it could be a big momentum shift,” Ausmus said.
inning-plus there was probably the turning point of the game for
Israel will face next against either Spain or France tonight, and
the winner of the four-team bracket advances to the next phase of the
international tournament in March 2013.
If Israel advances past the
qualifying round, several current Jewish MLB stars may join the team, including
Youkilis, Braun, and Kinsler.