As the World Baseball Classic got underway, Team Israel entered the tournament ranked #44 in the world.
Then they beat Korea in a 2-1, extra-inning thriller. Korea is ranked #3, behind only the US and Japan.
Yesterday, just after noon, right-hander Chun-Lin Kuo stepped onto the mound and got the game started vs. Israel. Then came a single from Sam Fuld, a double from Ty Kelly, and another single from Ike Davis, and Israel was on the board, 2-0. But that was just the beginning.
Singles by Nate Freiman and Ryan Lavarnway loaded the bases once more. After Tyler Krieger drove in another pair of runs, Kuo's night was finished.
Israel added two more in the third on a Zach Borenstein walk and a home run to center by Ryan Lavarnway that appeared to knock down a fan standing near the bleacher steps. Chinese Taipei's bats were silent until the sixth, when Chih-Sheng Lin doubled to left off of a high strike from Tyler Herron to score Chin-Lung Hu and Chi-Hao Chang. Yi-Chuan Lin scored Chang on a sac fly to center, and Taipei had managed to cut Israel's lead in half.
For a moment, it seemed as if the game was heading off the rails for Israel. For a moment.
Davis would lead off the top of the seventh with a monster fly ball off of a 1-1 pitch high in the zone that bounced off the top of the OF wall, landing Davis on third with a standing triple. Freiman drove him in on another pitch high in the zone when he singled to left. After Lavarnway was hit by a pitch, Cody Decker entered the game to pinch-hit for LF Blake Gailen. Swinging at the first pitch he saw, yet another high strike, he lined a single into left to load the bases. Krieger drove in Freiman on another base hit to center, followed by a bunt single by Scott Burcham that was woefully misplayed by pitcher Chen-Hua Lin when he threw the ball to a first base that wasn't being covered. As the ball rolled into right field, Israel cleared the bases and Burcham ended up on third.
While Sam Fuld was able to reach on a fielder's choice when Burcham was thrown out at home by shortstop Yung-Chi Chen, Kelly moved him to third on a liner to third baseman Chi-Hsien Chiang that was thrown wide of second on the attempted force-out. A tough inning for Taipei finally came to an end when Davis popped out to Chiang, but Israel had made the score 11-3 and time was running out for the fourth-ranked team in the world.
An eighth-inning double by Borenstein and a pinch-hit RBI single by Nick Rickles, who entered the game for Lavarnway, tacked on another run for the so-called underdogs. Two-out walks for Kelly and pinch-hitter Mike Meyers set the table in the ninth for Freiman, who drove the ball out to left for his first homer of the WBC and three more runs.
In the bottom of the ninth, with Taipei down to their final three outs, Ta-Hung Cheng walked and Che-Hsuan Lin singled, both moving into scoring position after Chin-Lung Hu grounded out to Neiman. A double by Chang brought them both home, Chang himself scoring when Chiang followed up with a double of his own. When Chih-Hsiang Lin lined a base hit to left and Yi-Chuan Lin drove in Chiang with a single to right, it appeared for a moment that Chinese Taipei was mounting a comeback. However, Kuo-Hui Kao popped out to Krieger and pinch-hitter Chi-Hung Hsu went down on strikes, giving Israel a 15-7 victory and back-to-back wins in less than 24 hours.
Rankings aside, Israel has a roster comprised of players with MLB and high-level minor-league experience; they aren't strangers to pressure. Still, this is a world-wide stage, and they are facing players from professional leagues in their respective countries, many of whom have international tournament experience under their belt. For the moment, Team Israel is writing the next chapter in what could be a Cinderella story for the nation of Israel and the WBC.