Baseball’s biggest tournament is finally underway. The 2017 edition of the World Baseball Classic opened in Seoul on Monday, with a pair of games that did not disappoint. In the wee hours of the morning here in the states, Israel was pitted against hosts South Korea. Israel then returned Monday night to face Chinese Taipei. They would go on to win both games, and further their unbelievable underdog story.
While it’s still early, Israel has their eyes set on joining the likes of the Mighty Ducks, Average Joe’s Gym, and Rudy, and put together one of the most unlikely of success stories. Their journey began this past September when they punched their ticket to their first WBC. After losing to Spain in the finale of 2012’s qualifier, Israel would defeat Great Britain in this year’s qualifier, and make it through to pool play for the first time.
Israel sits at number 41 in the international baseball world rankings and is the only team in the tournament not in the top 20. That hasn’t stopped them from competing, as manager Jerry Weinstein and company are in it for the long haul. Israel missed out on landing Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Alex Bregman, and Kevin Pillar. Instead, they feature a mixed bag of minor leaguers, veterans, and free agents trying to rejuvenate their careers.
Game One, Israel vs. South Korea
One of these is Jason Marquis, who would take the mound for Israel’s debut, against South Korea in their home country. The 38-year-old hasn’t pitched in a major league game since May of 2015, but he surprised everyone by throwing three shutout innings for Israel, allowing just two hits and striking out three. Israel would push across a run in the second, but South Korea knotted retaliated in the fifth and knotted it at one.
Despite both teams leaving plenty of men on base, 14 for Israel and nine for South Korea, the game would stay tied at one until the tenth inning. Josh Zeid, a minor leaguer in the Mets organization, would come in to pitch for Israel in the seventh, and kept the South Korean hitters at bay. In three scoreless innings, Zeid struck out four, and gave his team every chance to secure their first WBC win.
They would do just that in the top of the tenth by putting together a one-out rally, started by a walk to Ike Davis. A single from Ryan Lavarnway would move the runner, and Scott Burcham would become the hero with a go-ahead infield single. With a 2-1 lead, Zeid would take the mound to finish the job and do it in exciting fashion, striking out Dae-ho Lee with his last pitch before hitting the pitch limit.
Game Two, Israel vs. Chinese Taipei
With the first win under their belt, Israel would return Monday night (Tuesday in Seoul) to take on Chinese Taipei and prove that their upset over South Korea was not a fluke. Israel turned to Cardinals’ minor leaguer Corey Baker, while Chinese Taipei would send Chun-Lin Kuo to the mound. Baker would throw an impressive 4 ⅔ scoreless innings, striking out three, while Chun-Lin Kuo was chased before he could record three outs. Israel put the game away long before it started, and beat the reigning Pool B winners by a score of 15-7. Israel would collect an eye-popping 20 hits, with three-hit games from Ty Kelly, Ike Davis, Nate Freiman, and Tyler Krieger.
Once longshots to make the tournament just a few months ago, Israel have now risen to the top of Pool A. With a 2-0 record and two big upsets on their ledger, Israel has a very good chance of advancing to the next round. They’ll take on the Netherlands on Wednesday. You can watch their underdog story unfold on MLB Network and MLB.TV at 10pm eastern time.