Team Israel, the Cinderella of the World Baseball Classic, beat Kingdom of the Netherlands 4-2 Seoul on Thursday. Israel completed Pool A play with a clean 3-0 sweep.
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Both Israel and the Netherlands had already secured berths in the quarterfinal round, to be played in Tokyo starting Sunday, so seeding and bragging rights were on the line in Thursday's matchup. As the winner of Pool A, Israel will play the runner-up of Pool B, expected to be Japan or Cuba, in the opening game of that round.
Israel started Thursday's game strong, putting three runs on the board in the first inning. Netherlands scored in the third. Israel then scored again in the sixth inning, bringing the score to 4-1. Netherlands scored again in the 8th and loaded the bases in the 9th. Israel put the threat to bed with a double play.
After the win, Team Israel manager Jerry Weinstein told reporters "Winning is a good habit." Weinstein explained that with Tokyo already in their sights, the team used frequent pitcher changes to keep players well rested ahead of the quarterfinal appearance.
"But you know, it was important for us to win this," Weinstein said, explaining that the team, made up of Jewish American players, is acutely aware that they are in the World Baseball Classic to play for Israel, and to benefit Israel's national baseball federation. The team hopes "to help them build fields, run a program and establish a foundation so that some day it can really be a team of true Israeli National players in this tournament."
After the recent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S., including a series of bomb threats at various Jewish community centers, outfielder Zach Borenstein said "hopefully we can inspire the community to rise against that hate and show people that whatever stereotypes and things that people may hear, it's a bunch of b.s. Hopefully we can overcome that.
First baseman Nate Freiman also weighed in on the climate in the U.S., saying "You tend to hate things that you don't know very well, and this tournament is about showing that across our borders and cultures, we have more in common than we have different."
Freiman pointed out that Team Israel took the field with "people from Korea and Taiwan and all over the Dutch empire; we're all in this to play baseball."
Israel entered the tournament a heavy underdog, ranked 41st after qualifying for the first time, but in a nail-biter opener for the WBC, Israel beat 3rd ranked South Korea in 10 innings. Israel followed that with a 15-7 win over 4th ranked Chinese Taipei the next day.