CONEY ISLAND, New York - Israel faces off against Great Britain for a second time on Sunday evening, with the winner going on to play in the World Baseball Classic in March.
Israel advanced to the final by beating Brazil on Friday in a nail biter, 1-0, after knocking off Great Britain on Thursday night in a 5-2 outcome. Great Britain made it to the final by beating Brazil 4-3 on Saturday night.
Friday’s daytime game was a tight pitcher’s duel, as both Israel and Brazil managed only three hits, with the lone run scored in the bottom of the fourth. Designated hitter Nate Freiman led off with a double, went to third when Ike Davis reached on an error, and scored on Cody Decker’s sacrifice fly to center.
Otherwise it was all pitching, as five Israeli hurlers combined to strike out 12 from Brazil. Corey Baker went five innings on 83 pitches, two under the limit allowed in the tournament. He gave up one hit, walked three and struck out six to pick up the win.
“Going in, me and Ryan had a great game plan,” said Baker, referencing his catcher Ryan Lavarnway. “He did a great job of keeping me on track whenever things didn’t go our way. We stuck with the game plan and just let the guys work.
We have a good team behind us. We have that turf behind us, I’m going to use it. It worked out well for us.”
Baker was followed by Jared Lakind, who struck out two, with two walks, in one inning, Jeremy Bleich, who struck out three, Ryan Sheriff who induced one ground ball out, and Brad Goldberg, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save in two games.
Decker, Freiman and Scott Burcham got the only Israel hits in the game, in the second, fourth and seventh innings, respectively.
Despite being a 1-0 game, it still took 2:56 to play, in front of a disappointing 1,862 fans on a beautiful day for baseball – warm and breezy with wisps of clouds, and the sun shimmering off the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Coney Island boardwalk.
Brazil threatened to score three times, first in the top of the fourth, when they had second and third on two walks, but Baker got out of it on a ground ball to third for the third out.
In the top of the sixth, the leadoff batter walked, but was forced at second on an outstanding play by shortstop Burcham, who stopped a hard grounder and pivoted on his knee to get the runner at second.
Brazil then had first and third with one out, but Lakind struck out the fifth and sixth hitter, and Israel had still only given up one hit.
Brazil threatened one more time in the top of the eighth, when after Bleich got the first two men out, the green and yellow notched its second and third hits of the game – the first since the top of the first.
But Sherriff came in to get the third out on an unassisted ground ball to Decker.
“You play the game one pitch at a time,” said manager Jerry Weinstein. “You play against the ball. You don’t worry about anything but your own locker room. We just take care of ourselves, and do what we do and usually that’s good enough, especially when you have a group of high-caliber, thoroughbred players.”
In Thursday night’s game, Israel rallied in the bottom of the seventh inning against two Great Britain relievers, taking the lead and the game, 5-2.
The rally began when four of the first five Israeli hitters reached base against reliever Vaughan Harris. Left fielder Rhett Wiseman singled and scored the tying run on Mike Meyers’ sacrifice fly. A batter later, Zach Borenstein’s sharp RBI single scored Scott Burcham with the go-ahead run.
Former New York Mets Ike Davis then pinch hit and battled through a nine pitch at-bat, fouling off three straight 3-2 pitches from Nolan Bond before knocking a run-scoring single off the mound and up the middle to score Burcham.
Davis was followed by Padres minor leaguer Cody Decker, whose sacrifice fly to the warning track off reliever Nolan Bond narrowly missed being a grand slam.
Former Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow got the win for Israel. The 11-year MLB veteran struck out two in his lone inning of work, in relief Josh Zeid, who allowed one run and struck out six in 3-plus innings of relief. Israeli pitchers overall struck out 11 batters.
Former Red Sox, Orioles and Braves catcher Ryan Lavarnway rapped three hits and scored a run, while Decker doubled to go with his sacrifice fly.
Team Israel’s starter who went three innings – there’s a strict pitch-count limit in the WBC tournament – was 38-year-old Jason Marquis, the 15-year MLB veteran who last pitched with the Reds in 2015.
Marquis, a local native from Staten Island, allowed one run on two hits, with a fastball ranging around 85 MPH.
Marquis also spoke after the game about how he felt playing for Israel.
“It brings pride to my heritage and tradition, and at the same time they are meaningful games,” said Marquis. “They mean a lot to the country of Israel and for raising awareness for the game I love so much.”
Only some 4,000 fans showed up, a disappointing attendance considering the huge Jewish fan base in New York. Those who did show up cheered enthusiastically for Israel, making it seem like a home game for the blue and white.
Davis, who played five seasons with the Mets and eight games with the Yankees, was greeted like a returning son by fans.
“People still embrace me here,” said Davis. “I don’t know why that’s true, but I appreciate it.”
Josh Satin, also a former Met, was equally surprised to discover the fan support.
“When I was playing for the Mets, it was Ike and I – we were the Jews in New York,” Satin said. “I was just a two-year utility player, but I felt like the city gravitated toward me. A kid would come up to say hello, and I’d say: ‘How do you recognize me? I play once a month.’” The team of 26 Americans and two Israelis know they are playing to help grow baseball in Israel.
“You have 28 guys who are really proud to be Jewish, raising awareness for Israel baseball and Jewish people,” said Zeid.
“You guys saw the crowd today. If we win, it will build support for baseball in Israel.”
The win in the first game felt particularly satisfying for the team, which is still smarting from its heartbreaking, extra-innings elimination loss in the World Baseball Classic qualifier four years ago.
For the eight players on this year’s team who played in 2012, the painful defeat is still fresh in their minds.
“That wound never healed for us,” said third baseman Decker. “Every time we see each other, we always bring it up.”
Decker said he was surprised at what he found in Team Israel.
“Honestly, when I initially joined the team the first time around, I didn’t expect it to be what it became,” he said. “It became an instant family. When it became that, it really ate away at us that we didn’t come out with that victory. Did I expect it? No. Should I have? Yes.”
Sunday’s championship game is at 6 p.m. New York time, and is being streamed live on WorldBaseballClassic.com. If Israel wins, it’s off to Seoul, South Korea, next March for the big tournament, with 15 other countries competing in the quadrennial WBC.