4-2 and Headed Home
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As if playing against the top ranked team in the world on their own turf wasn’t intimidating enough, Japan had nearly 44,000 fans in attendance, along with an in-house brass band, in their face-off with Israel this afternoon.
In the game that mattered most to them, the #41 ranked team in the world took on #1 and held them scoreless through five. On the mound for Israel was Josh Zeid, in recent years a closer, he went four innings giving up just four hits and striking out three. His opposition, Kodia Senga lasted one more giving up just one hit and flagging four before handing the ball over to Hirano who also held Israel scoreless through his 1.1 innings on the mound.
Come the top of the 6th, it felt like the game you’d been watching had been interrupted to broadcast a different game. After a 1,2,3, 5th inning, Dylan Alexrod, pitching his 2nd inning for Israel, began to struggle. Leftfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh took the 11th pitch yard, his first homer of the classic, and the first score of the game was on the board. Alexrod walked the next batter and that sent management to the bullpen looking for a new arm. Before he could get warmed up, Hayato Sakamoto sent a long ball to center to put runners on the corners. Lavarnway called a team meeting at the mound to buy Zach Thornton enough time to take the ball.
On Thornton’s first batter Israel took advantage. The little hopper to third allowed them to run down Sakamoto for the out leaving runners on 1st and 2nd, the ideal set-up for the double play. The next ball, which looked like it was going yard to everyone in the park for just a moment, managed to stay deep in left and created only a one run result, leaving runners on 2nd and 3rd thanks to the quick, accurate arm of Gailen at left.
Next was a small chopper and the throw, caught by Freiman pulled him off the bag, saving the error on the throw but putting the runner on first in the rundown. When the runner on second took advantage, heading for home, the throw went to third. It was not in time leaving guys on the corners without getting the out. They intentionally walked the next batter and, if you’re an Israel fan, the look on Thornton’s face gave you zero reassurance. One more up, this time the player took a solid hit down the right field line and another run crossed the plate leaving bases loaded with no outs and four on the board now for Japan. That did it for Thornton as Israel made their second pitching change of the inning.
Alex Katz took the mound for Israel after all nine in Japan’s line up had already been to the plate in the inning. The first pitch hit the batter’s elbow and they walked another in. Welcome to blooper baseball. The score was not reflective of the amazing fielding that Israel was playing. It could have been far, far worse given the unexpected scenarios playing out before them. The next two pitches were balls and the crowd began singing the leftfielder Tsutsugoh’s walk up song. It wasn’t enough this go around though. Katz struck him out on a slider, catching him swinging on a wide one, and the pitcher changed once again.
The ball was then handed to Brad Goldberg who became Israel’s 4th pitcher of the inning. Thornton and Goldberg were both in Israel’s designated pitching pool but Goldberg was not activated until the 2nd round. He K’d the first man he faced and Israel final got their chance to bat with minimal damage, all things considered.
After six Japan was leading 5-0 with the heart of Israel’s order due up, Davis, Freiman and Borenstein. Davis hit a shot to left for the first out of the inning. Freiman hit a double for just the second hit of the game. With that Japan made a pitching change pulling Senga after 5.2 scoreless innings. With one away and a runner on second, Yoshihisa Hirano took the mound to face off against Zach Borenstein. He went down swinging. Lavarnway hit a blooper that managed its way around the pitcher’s glove but he was too slow to take advantage, getting beat by the throw for the final out.
Japan began their half of the 7th much the same way they ended the 6th with a single by their SS Sakamoto, putting a man on base with no outs. The next pitch Goldman delivered a little chin music to Suzuki that tipped off for a strike. Suzuki came around for a bunt once again taking the sacrifice to put Sakamoto into scoring position at 2nd. Matsuda popped way up to shallow left giving Galien all day to get under it and not giving the runner a chance to make a move. Goldberg then issued his first walk of the game, putting runners on 1st and 2nd with two down. Kobayashi took his pitch to the wall but Galien robbed Japan of their second triple of the inning. After seven, the score remained unchanged and Galien looked like a Gold Glove contender at left.
Israel went three up, three down in the 8th giving themselves just three outs to make something happen or head home. Japan’s bullpen had held them scoreless through eight. For Japan 2nd baseman Kikuchi went down on a grounder before Aoki took one to the outfield to for a single. Next up was Sakamoto who was intentionally walked, much to the chagrin of the crowd. That set up the double play with men on 1st and 2nd and one away. In a shot down the third base side that just beat the baseman’s dive Galien had to run to the corner to pick it up. Aoki and Tsutsugoh both crossed the plate putting Uchikawa at second by himself with no outs. That means neither intentional walk by Israel did them any favors and the 2nd one worked against them resulting in a run as well as no outs. With the score 7-0 Israel had their last chance to stay in it after heading into this week’s tournament play with a record of 4-0.
With the top of the order at the plate, Israel couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to get something started. Fuld was patient at the plate and earned himself a walk down the path. Ty Kelly then singled to center and Israel had two on with none away. Ike Davis did his part getting Fuld home on a single to right. Israel was finally on the board playing the game their way, with a little small ball. Freiman came up with a shallow hit to right way too high to allow the runners to move. Borenstein hopped one back to the pitcher who handled it easily but committed an error on the throw. It was caught by the 2nd baseman, who was backing up Sakamoto on the base, but not in time to do anything with it. Israel loaded them up with just one out. Lavarnway, who was averaging .467 heading into the game, got a piece of one that scored Davis and Kelly. Credited with a double and two more RBIs Lavarnway sat on 2nd. Borenstein was on 3rd and Israel still had just one out but the score was now 3-8.
Blake Galien took a high, shallow shot to center that was too close to advance any runners. Kreiger was called out on strikes and the WBC’s Cinderella story had written its end. The Mensch and all his men were headed home.
Israel should leave the tournament with their heads held high. Heading into the event with 36:1 odds against them, they were undefeated through their first four games having beaten the #3, #4, #5 and #9th ranked teams in the world. Today they held the best in the world scoreless through five innings. It would be one of only two defeats, the second coming from a rematch with #9, fellow Europeans (at least in the sports world), the Netherlands.
Their loss is The Netherland’s gain as they now get an extra day’s rest after two mercy rule games, including a win against Cuba today, before starting the third round in Los Angeles.
There they will face the winner of Pool F for a chance to be part of the final line-up.