Team Israel, the Cinderella of the World Baseball Classic, won its second matchup with a 15-7 win over Chinese Taipei, also known as Taiwan, early Tuesday morning.
Israel, playing its first Classic at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, made its entry ranked just 41 but has shown it's a force to be reckoned with, notching wins over 3rd and 4th ranked South Korea and Chinese Taipei respectively.
Speaking to reporters after its second upset win, Israel Manager Jerry Weinstein said the team was living up to his expectations. Weinstein paraphrased late NFL coach Dennis Green, saying "They are who I thought they were. This is a very competitive group, and offensively, that's who we are today."
Israel set the tone for the entire game with a four-run first inning. First baseman Ike Davis brought in the game's first runs with a two-RBI single. Israel also chalked up hits from Sam Fuld and a double off the bat of third baseman Ty Kelly.
After a tough, extra-innings win over South Korea, less than one day before hand, this early boost was a critical mental lift for the Israel players.
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway's two-run homer in the third inning gave Israel a 6-0 lead.
Taiwan rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to close to 6-3, but Taiwan's pitching staff couldn't hold off Israel's five runs in the seventh and one more in the eighth, bringing the score to 12-3.
Nate Freiman sealed the deal with a three-run homer at the top of the ninth. Taiwan staged a last-gasp rally of four runs in the bottom of the ninth but it was too little too late as the game ended 15-7.
Starter Corey Baker, who pitched 4 2/3 innings, will be credited with the win.
The Israel team was cobbled together of mostly Jewish Americans. Only two players actually hold Israeli passports, but tournament rules state that players must only be eligible for citizenship - not hold it - to represent a country. The Law of Return grants citizenship to any Jew who requests it.
Several of the players made their first trip to the country earlier this year. Davis told reporters that the experience was meaningful, particularly seeing the sites of "all the stories that we've heard growing up and places. Just putting a place to a name, it was a life-changing experience."
After the win, catcher Lavarnway noted that "two generations ago, the way that this team was put together, would have meant that we were being killed. It was, I mean, we were being picked out, just because of the way that we were born and our lineage."
"It means a lot more than that we're here, that we're competing in a sport on the highest level, and we have the right to be here," Lavarnway concluded.
Davis said many team members hope their WBC success helps kickstart baseball in Israel. "It's not as big as we'd like, and I think we can maybe change that with what we're doing."
Israel will face Netherlands on Thursday at 5:30 A.M. Israel time in their final Pool A matchup. The top two teams from each pool advance to the next round, which will be played in Tokyo next week.
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