BROOKLYN, New York – Israel and Brazil showed off impressive pitching in a performance that truly put the ‘classic’ in World Baseball Classic, and the Israeli team came out the victors in a 1-0 nailbiter of a game in the final qualifying round for the 2017 WBC. Israel advanced to the title game, while Brazil will have to defeat Great Britain for a chance at revenge.
Despite very different backgrounds, Corey Baker and Bo Takahashi stole the show with ace performances for their countries. Baker, a 26-year old righthander from just north of New York City, advanced to Triple-A in the Cardinals’ system this year.
On the other hand, Takahashi was scouted in Brazil at a MLB Elite Camp, which brings professional coaching to countries without established baseball programmes. One of four teenagers on Brazil’s roster, Takahashi impressed in Single-A for the Diamondbacks’ organisation this year
Brazil threatened in the first inning against Baker after Irait Chirino walked and 2013 Classic star Leonardo Reginatto singled to left, but Baker buckled down and caughtDante Bichette, Jr. looking and got a flyout to end the frame.
Takahashi started the game with a three up, three down first, and Baker matched him in the second. Brazil’s starter immediately got into trouble in the bottom of the inning, walking Ike Davis and giving up a single to Cody Decker with no outs. Showing poise beyond his years, though, Takahashi tackled the next three batters methodically, and got out of the jam without surrendering a run.
Neither side put a runner on in the third, but Brazil left runners in the corners an inning later, and Israel would make them pay in the fourth.
Nate Freiman laced a ball off the left fielder’s glove to lead off the inning, racing to second for a double. Another miscue moved him up a base, as a line drive handcuffed the first baseman and put Davis on board. Decker would drive home his Portland Sea Dogs teammate with a sacrifice fly before Takahashi could recover.
Baker came out for the fifth and finished with his third 1-2-3 inning before exiting due to tournament rules on pitch counts.
Murilo Gouvêa, hero of Brazil’s 2012 qualifying wins over Panamá, came in to keep the game close and did just that with a quick fifth inning.
Brazil set to work again in the sixth against Jared Lakind, putting runners on the corners with one out after Reginatto reach on a groundball and swiped second and third. Bichette walked, but Israel’s reliever got back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.
Both sides had quick seventh innings before Brazil attempted to rally in the eighth against Jeremy Bleich. With two down, Bleich gave up singles to Reginatto and Bichette, but Ryan Sherriff entered in a key situation for the second game in a row and slammed the door with a grounder for the third out.
Felipe Salas and Hugo Kanabushi pitched a scoreless eighth before Israel’s manager Jerry Weinstein brought in closer Brad Goldberg for the second straight game. Goldberg earned his second save with a dominant ninth, striking out one.
Baker (1-0) earned the win after giving up only a single hit in five scoreless innings, walking three and striking out six. Bleich struck out three in 1 2/3 as Brazil put only eight men on base and whiffed 12 times.
“I’m honoured to have ‘Israel’ across my chest and be part of this team,” remarked Baker.“My game plan was to pitch to my strengths—getting groundballs and being efficient—and let the guys work behind me. Ryan [Lavarnway] kept me on track, and he has a ton of experience.”
The energetic Decker, who spoke movingly after day one about the extra innings loss that has haunted Israel since the qualifying rounds of the last World Baseball Classic, talked more about the team.
“We really quickly became a family last time, and the new guys have become part of it as well. When I initially joined the team, I didn’t expect it to be what it became. Should I have expected it? Yes. We’re proud to represent Israel.”
Takahashi (0-1) was the hard luck loser, punching out five in four frames, surrendering the game’s only run on just two hits and a walk. Gouvêa tossed three scoreless, allowing a hit and a walk.
“It was a great opportunity to show off the work I’ve been doing,” observed Takahashi through an interpreter. “First and foremost was fighting for my country and doing it with pride. I learned a lot today and it is very good to play against good players.”
An obviously frustrated Barry Larkin, manager of Brazil, praised his pitchers after the game. “We have to keep pitching like we’re pitching. What you saw today is what we’re capable of doing. When we saw Bo play at an Elite Camp six or seven years ago, we saw potential, and he is progressively getting better.”
“Those guys [Israel] did an excellent job. What went wrong was that their guys did well. What was right was our pitching, and we have to keep that up,” concluded Larkin.
Each side collected only three hits, and Israel’s loaded middle of the lineup contributed most of the offense, as Freiman, Davis, and Decker reached base four times, drove in and scored the only run, and stole the team’s only base.
Reginatto was 2-for-4 for the second straight game from the three hole and Larkin praised the team’s leader afterwards.
“Leonardo has a good approach to hitting, a very calm approach. He keeps the bat head in the zone for a long time. I told him that he’ll be a big leaguer, and told him he could smile when I said that. He said, ‘I don’t want to smile, because I’m not there yet.’”
Larkin’s Brazil will have to fight back against Great Britain, who defeated Pakistan in the day’s second game, in a contest later today. First pitch is scheduled for midnight GMT, with the winner advancing to battle Israel on Sunday for the right to advance to the Classic’s main draw.
This post first appeared on www.mister-baseball.com.