Thursday’s semi began on a strange note, with Israeli pitcher AJ Eisenshtat recording two balks in the top of the first inning. His first balk allowed leadoff Josh Goldsilver to advance to third base, and the second brought him into score, giving Canada an early 1-0 lead.
Israel got on the board in a wild third inning that could better be described as a comedy of errors.
Liam Sagiv reached on a walk, Nadav Machlin then reached on catcher’s interference and Canada’s starting pitcher, Zeev Salsberg, walked another batter to load the bases with only one out in the inning. Lyrr Friesem then reached on an error by the shortstop, allowing two runs to score.
Another run came in when catcher Ben Silverman’s throw to second sailed over the second baseman’s head in an attempt to catch Friesem stealing. Friesem was then knocked in by his brother, Kai, for a fourth run in the inning before the offensive onslaught ended. The visitors from the north finished the game with an inexcusable six errors.
In a scene reminiscent of the infamous Game 5 of the 2015 MLB American League Division Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers, Canada’s Noah Merovitz advanced to third base after the catcher’s return throw to Naor hit Ben Silverman’s bat as he stood in the batter’s box between pitches.
Unfortunately for Canada, Jose Bautista was not in Ra’anana to hit an unforgettable home run, but Silverman came through with an RBI single to even the score at four apiece.
The home team put itself ahead by a run when its turn to bat arrived, with two deeply driven doubles from Nadav Machlin and Aviad Schechter that would have been homers in many ballparks with normal dimensions. Fortunately for Canada, the far outfield walls resulting from the soccer pitch adjacent to the diamond saved a run.
Both dugouts increased the intensity of their cheering as the final innings progressed. Chants of “olé” from the Canadian bench competed with Hebrew songs from the Israelis.
With Israel up 5-4 in the seventh and final inning, Machlin came in to save the game. The pitcher got into trouble early by walking the first two batters. First-baseman Cole Rutman promptly made him pay with a line drive to right field that scored a run, blowing the save for Machlin and tying the game at five.
Canada made another critical mistake, though, as Solly Wener was caught at home with time to spare after attempting to score on a passed ball.
Looking for the walk-off victory, the blue-and-white again capitalized on Canada’s physical and mental errors. Pitcher Daniel Press walked the first batter, then made a throwing error on a routine sacrifice bunt that allowed Kai Friesem to reach base safely.
Press blundered yet again on another sacrifice bunt attempt when he picked up the ball and looked toward third base, taking up the short time he had to get the sure out at first. In the next at-bat, Michael Segal knocked one through the left side, delivering the decisive bases-loaded blow and advancing his team to the title game.
Israel knows that the duel with the Americans will not be easy.
“It’s going to be a tough game, but we know that we can win if we play our A-game,”Team Israel pitcher
“It’s going to be a tough game, but we know that we can win if we play our A-game,” said Eli Kupietsky, a Team Israel pitcher.
Kupietsky is confident that the home crowd will provide the team with an advantage over their competitors as well.
“The crowd gives us extra energy. Baseball tournaments don’t come to Israel that often. The fact that we can play on our own field in front of our own fans is inspiring and makes us fight even more.”
The Israelis will need to fight as hard as they can to defeat Team USA, which has gone undefeated in the tournament thus far. Fans can watch the gold medal game at Ra’anana’s Ezra Schwartz Memorial Field on Friday at 10 a.m.