Hidden figures - Behind Team Israel's win

Team Blue-and-white opens European Baseball Championship with emphatic 6-1 victory over Czech Republic

September 8, 2019 16:27
2 minute read.
BLAKE GAILEN was Israel’s top hitter in the European Baseball Championship Group B tournament earlie

BLAKE GAILEN was Israel’s top hitter in the European Baseball Championship Group B tournament earlier this month, and the blue-and-white is counting on him to maintain that momentum in this weekend’s best-of-three series against Lithuania. (photo credit: MARGO SUGARMAN)

From a look at the box score, Israel’s win over the Czech Republic in the opener of the European Baseball Championship tournament  was a convincing one-sided victory. The blue-and-white out-hit our opponents 13 to 6 and outscored them 6 to 1, without even giving up an earned run.

But what makes baseball great is the story hidden beneath the numbers. Indeed, these intangibles are what make Team Israel even more interesting.

The Czechs took advantage of Israel's early-game jitters to push across a run in the opening frame. Two innings later, Blake Gailen displayed the same MVP form he showed in this summer’s previous tournament, tying the game with a solo home run.

However, the game remained a test of nerves with neither team scoring, and Team Israel’s terrific pitching staff bending but never breaking. They held their opponents in  check by extinguishing several scoring threats, with catcher Nick Rickles repeatedly digging balls out of the dirt with men in scoring position, a contribution that doesn’t show up in game stats. As one of Team Israel’s newest immigrants, Rickles seemingly spent more time in the sand around home plate than he did this past week at the Tel Aviv beach.
The 1-1 nail-biter continued into the seventh, when with two on, the Czech manager brought in a lefty to face red-hot Gailen, who was torching the ball and would end up going 4 for 4. Clearly, not thinking about right-handed hitting Rickles or Seattle Mariners star Danny Valencia coming up behind  Gailen, they pitched around Gailen to load the bases, which Rickles immediately cleared with a clutch double.

They then brought in a right-hander but he couldn't stop Valencia from scorching a bullet that scored Rickles and moved Israel into a commanding 5-1 lead.

But here’s where the box score again falls short. A steady rain that had been falling now stopped the game. Had it continued, Israel's four go-ahead runs would have been washed away. Looking to the heavens, whence cometh our salvation, Israeli fans implored the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to become the God of Blake, Nick and Danny V.

The rain stopped, but when play resumed it was the Czechs who now threatened, putting two men on base in the in the bottom of the inning. The field was also slick now - but not as slick as the glove of shortstop Zach Penprase who, in religious fashion worthy of this month of Elul, atoned for an earlier misplay with a brilliant web gem, another item that doesn’t show in the box-score.

With Manager Eric Holtz brilliantly guiding his players to contribute whenever called upon, the Blue and White exemplified the old saw that there’s No “I” in T-E-A-M (except for Israel).

They are a culmination of years of hard work by Peter Kurz, President of the IAB and Team GM. Nevertheless, this week’s work has just begun. 


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