Israel’s national baseball team shocked South Korea 2-1 on a 10th-inning infield single in the first game of the World Baseball Classic on Monday.
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The 16-team tournament began when the Israelis most of them are actually Jewish Americans faced off against the Koreans in Seoul in the opener of Pool A, which also includes Taiwan and the Netherlands.
Shortstop Scott Burcham, an Arizona native, drove in the winning run on the infield hit just to the right of second base. Israel entered the tournament as the lowest seed and is ranked 41st in the world.
Israel had gotten on the scoreboard in the second on a bases-loaded walk, but South Korea tied it in the fifth when Seo Geong-chan singled to left, scoring Kim Jae-ho from third.
Josh Zeid retired the side in the bottom of the 10th and earned the win.
The Israelis, described by ESPN as “the Jamaican bobsled team of the WBC,” play Taiwan in a game that starts 5 A.M. Tuesday Israel time. They then battle the Netherlands at 5 A.M. Thursday Israel time.
Although Taiwan has only one major leaguer on its roster, the team made it to the second round in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Corey Baker starts against Taiwan for Israel; Baker pitched very well in a qualifier in Brooklyn, where he notched the win.
Only two players on the Israeli team have Israeli passports, but WBC rules state that a player merely needs to be eligible for citizenship in a country. Under Israeli law, all Jews may receive citizenship.
Four pools of four teams are taking part in the first round in Seoul, Tokyo, Miami and Guadalajara, Mexico. Two teams from each pool advance to the second round in Tokyo and San Diego, which will produce the final four for the championship round in Los Angeles from March 20 to 22.
This is Israel’s first trip to the World Baseball Classic after it failed to qualify for the 2013 tournament under Brad Ausmus, currently manager of the Detroit Tigers. Under manager Jerry Weinstein, Israeli won a qualifying round by beating Britain in Brooklyn last September.
While considered huge underdogs to baseball giants like the United States, Japan and the Dominican Republic, the Israelis believe they can make some noise with a team boasting former major leaguers and current minor leaguers.
Japan won the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006 and repeated in 2009, while the Dominican Republic captured the crown in 2013.
AP, Reuters and JTA contributed to this report.