Team Israel hopes World Classic showing will boost baseball in the Holy Land
Israel falls to Spain, 9-7, in wild final, but goes home happy.
JUPITER, Florida - The box score looked like a sea of typos.
Runs were scored in the craziest of ways, and runs slipped away in the most frustrating of ways.
The marathon game, in other words, had everything. Just not the one thing most of those at Roger Dean Stadium came to see.
Shortstop Yunesky Sanchez drove a two-out single up the middle to score Engel Beltre and Paco Figueroa to give Spain a 9-7 victory over Israel in 10 innings Sunday night in the final game of World Baseball Classic qualifying.
The attendance was announced at 4,463 but was actually much smaller.
Although the result thrilled a small pocket of fans sitting above Spain's dugout, the majority of them, donning various combinations of yarmulkes, the Star of David and Israeli blue, went home disappointed that their club won't be advancing to the main draw of the World Baseball Classic in March.
And while disappointment may have been the immediate emotion inside the Israeli clubhouse, it was countered by the feeling that progress has been made.
"I can go back months to my visit to Israel right up to the final out of this game - there were a lot of positives," said Israel manager Brad Ausmus, a former major leaguer. "You never come to a tournament like this and envision losing or going home early. You envision winning, so it's a little bit of a tough pill to swallow now. But there are a lot of positives that can still come from this, and hopefully one is the prosperity of baseball in Israel."
That was echoed by pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, 33, who recalled when Israeli baseball was launched more than two decades ago.
"I never thought when I started playing catch on a soccer field, I'd end up in a major-league environment, with some major-league talent around me," Lipetz said. "It's been great, just to hear in the stands people saying, 'I want to try out for Team Israel next year.'"
Although the game was punctuated by punches and counter-punches, Israel had no answer in the bottom of the 10th, when Nate Freiman grounded out, Robbie Widlansky walked, Casey Haerther struck out and Josh Satin grounded out.
It was a wild, 4-hour, 50-minute marathon that included three runs being forced in by walks, one on a hit batsman and another on a passed ball.
The question is, how many in Israel saw it? By the time the game finally ended, it was approaching 4 A.M. in Tel Aviv.
The game featured 18 walks (11 to Israeli hitters ), seven batters hit by pitches, five double plays, 22 hits (15 by Spain ), 1-2-3 innings in only three of a possible 20 innings, 26 runners left on base (14 by Israel ), 13 pitchers (seven by Israel ) and, remarkably, no errors.
"We saw a little bit of everything tonight," Ausmus said.
Somewhere along the way, broadcasters grew so punch drunk they repeatedly replayed a clip of a fan stumbling over the railing and belly-flopping onto Roger Dean's grassy knoll in pursuit of a foul ball. (Missed it? Don't worry. It's sure to make the highlight reels. )
A strange game turned sublime in the fourth inning when Israel figured out a way to score a run without even swinging a bat, followed by another run scored without putting the ball in play. Spain's gifts to Israel were three walks, a passed ball and a hit-by-pitch for the first run, followed by another walk for the second run, which gave Israel a 5-4 lead.
"It could be easy to say, 'OK, what's going on?" said Figueroa. "But this group of players know baseball. We know you've got to play all nine innings and there are going to be ups and downs."
Reprinted with permission from The Palm Beach Post.