There are currently 20 teams playing in the World Baseball Classic. Team Israel is ranked 41st. Let that sink in as some sort of hint as to just how much of an underdog this team is. Despite their underdog status, however, they are currently sitting pretty at 2-0, and a lot of that success has to do with players currently or formerly in the New York Mets organization.
Team Israel (41st) joins South Korea (ranked 3rd), Chinese Taipei (4th), and the Netherlands (9th) in Pool A. The best two teams from that bracket will advance from Seoul, South Korea to the next round in Tokyo, Japan, to face off against the two best teams from Pool B. With Israel’s two wins, they are almost a sure bet to advance to the next round as they prepare to face the Netherlands.
The first game against South Korea was a true barn burner with Israel coming out on top 2-1 in 10 innings. Israel batters combined to leave a whopping 31 runners on base, a testament to just how many squandered opportunities they had to blow the game open. However, in the 10th inning, a rally started by former Mets first baseman Ike Davis put them on top.
Davis, who knicked a pinch-hit single earlier in the game, worked a one-out walk. Ryan Lavarnway then singled to center field, sending him to third. He was then lifted for a pinch runner, who with two outs scored on an infield single to give Israel the lead. While Ty Kelly was mostly silent in the game, going 0-for-4 with a walk, they were not the only two players with Mets connections.
With the score tied 1-1 in the 8th inning, righty Josh Zeid was put on the mound. Zeid spend 2016 between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas, going 7-6 with a 4.61 ERA in 16 games (15 starts). He pitched two scoreless innings to keep the game tied, and after his team took the lead in the top of the 10th, he was kept in to lock down the win. He did just that, tossing a 1-2-3 inning and striking out the last two batters he faced to earn the win.
In the second game against Chinese Taipei, Kelly and Davis were front and center, scoring four of Israel’s 15 runs in the contest. Kelly went 3-for-5 with a walk and two runs scored. Ike had even more of a monster game, going 3-for-5 with two runs scored, two RBIs, and a triple. His two-RBI single in the first inning, scoring Kelly and Sam Fuld, marked the first of many runs scored in the game.
The Law of Return (1950) grants every Jew the right to come to Israel as an immigrant and become an Israeli Citizen. This is why many Jewish-American players are on the roster, despite their not having been born in Israel. Some notable Jewish players not playing for Team Israel include Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Kevin Pillar, Joc Pederson, Danny Valencia, and Scott Feldman. Despite those big names, however, as it currently stands, Team Israel does not have even one player currently in the MLB.
This is the first World Baseball Classic Israel has qualified for and they’re making the most of their opportunity. While this Jewish sports writer might root for them because they share my faith, a reason we can all root for them is that they’re so overwhelmingly seen as the underdog in the tournament. Some teams are studded with MLB All Stars, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award winners, but Israel doesn’t have any of that.
They have a band of players wanting to represent their religion and the country of Israel, and so far, they have shown tremendous heart and an ability to overlook the odds. The odds are 200-1 against them to win it all, but having odds at all means it’s possible. The team, along with their mascot Mensch on a Bench, are playing the Netherlands Wednesday at 10:00 PM EST.