BROOKLYN, New York – Israel left no doubt that it deserved a place in the 2017 World Baseball Classic with a convincing 9-1 win over upstart Great Britain to win the fourth and final qualifier without losing a game.
The final score was not indicative of how hard that Israel had to work to earn the victory. The game was an evenly played pitchers’ duel into the bottom of the fifth inning before Israel finally broke through against Great Britain.
Neither side could get anything going in the early innings, though the starting pitchers seemed unlikely to match zeroes. Israel sent Jason Marquis, veteran of 16 major league seasons, to the mound for his second start of the qualifier, while Great Britain turned to P.E. teacher Spencer Kreisberg.
Kreisberg faced a lineup with four batters with major league backgrounds, but kept them off balance through the first three frames with only one hit allowed. The righthander, who had recently drawn the start for Britain against powerhouse The Netherlands in the 2016 European Championship, looked surprisingly comfortable in the most important start of his career.
Marquis, on the other hand, breezed through Britain’s lineup with the calmness and confidence of a veteran big leaguer. The righty built off his first start of the qualifier, in which he gave up one run in three innings to Great Britain, by mixing in a much-improved breaking ball and sinker, and the results were devastating. Four times Marquis came out of the dugout, and four times his opponents went 1-2-3 without a baserunner.
Kreisberg had to wiggle out of a jam in the fourth after a leadoff walk and a one-out hit by pitch, but got a groundball to put runners on the corners before being helped out with some impressive defence. Mitch Glasser tapped a ball through the right side that evaded Jordan Serena at first base, but Albert Cartwright ranged far into the hole, scooped up the ball, and tossed to Kreisberg, who arrived at first base just in time.
Marquis tossed only 43 pitches before giving way to Josh Zeid, who continued where he left off against Great Britain on Thursday, tossing a three-up, three-down fifth.
Israel finally broke through in the bottom of the frame after Britain manager Liam Carroll pulled Kreisberg following a leadoff single. Blake Gailen, making his first appearance of the Classic, greeted reliever Ali Knowles by ripping a line drive home run down the right field line. The fourbagger was the first that left the field for any team in the tournament.
Knowles then walked Zach Borenstein, and this time Carroll inserted Rei Martínez, who had struck out two in a scoreless Classic debut on Thursday. This time it was Ryan Lavarnway who offered a rude welcome, as Israel’s catcher crushed Martínez’ second pitch over the scoreboard on left centre for a monstrous home run and a 4-0 lead.
Martínez would get out of the inning without allowing another run, but the damage had been done and Zeid quashed any hope of a quick rally with three quick outs in the sixth. The reliever, who also played for Israel in the 2012 qualifying round, showed off some impressive reflexes in getting the second out, as Chavez Young drilled a pitch directly up the middle. Zeid ducked out of the way, but stuck his glove up and snared the liner for a quick-thinking catch.
Nolan Bond was next out of the ‘pen for Britain, and Scott Burcham dropped a perfectly placed one-out bunt to put one on in the sixth. Bond got a second out, but gave up a booming triple to Zach Borenstein to make it 5-0, and Israel started to seal the game.
Jasrado Chisholm would break up the perfect game with one out in the seventh, working a walk off Zeid, but that was all for Great Britain.
Israel’s heart of the lineup delivered again in the seventh, with Cody Decker blasting an enormous roundtripper over the scoreboard to increase the lead to 6-0. Decker, a media favourite due to his zany interview responses, was clearly excited with the homer, and the supportive crowd waved Israel flags as he crossed home.
Britain would finally break through in the eighth for a consolation run. Jeremy Bleich came in to pitch for the Blue-and-White, and got two quick outs before running into trouble.
Cartwright broke up the no-hitter with a single to right, advancing to second as the ball went past Israel’s rightfielder. Chavez Young would then ruin the shutout with a single that just found its way through the right side to make the score 6-1. A walk by Kyle Simmons gave Britain a chance to narrow the deficit, but big league veteran Craig Breslow entered to get a groundball and end the threat.
Greg Hendrix toed the rubber in the bottom of the eighth, and after a quick strikeout, Israel quickly solved the southpaw. Gailen walked and Borenstein stroked a single to right, with the former scoring on a Lavarnway RBI-single.
Paul Kirkpatrick, who earned the win in relief against Pakistan two days prior, got the second out, but Charlie Cutler sliced a two-run double into the right field corner, and Israel claimed a 9-1 margin entering the final frame.
Dean Kremer, the first-ever Israeli citizen to be drafted by a major league team, finished off the game, and Israel stormed the field to celebrate its first berth in the World Baseball Classic.
Zeid (1-0) earned the win, striking out three and walking only a batter in three frames. In 6 2/3 innings in the tournament, Zeid struck out nine and allowed only three baserunners. Marquis whiffed five in four perfect innings to drop his qualifier ERA to 1.29, though he gave up only two hits in seven total frames.
“We set the goal of winning the qualifier and I gave it everything I had and it’s exciting,”remarked Marquis. “In the last game, my offspeed stuff wasn’t sharp, so I went back to the drawing board to make sure I was sharp. Pitching for a second time against a team I had to be a lot sharper. My breaking ball was really working and my sinker had late life.”
Asked about his retirement, Marquis added, “I’ll sit down with my family and discuss going to Korea [for the 2017 World Baseball Classic]. I’d have to prepare as if I was going into a major league season. I never filed my retirement papers, and I got a lot of thinking to do. We’ll see what happens.”
Scott Burcham led Israel with three of the team’s 11 hits, scoring twice. Borenstein andLavarnway each had a pair of hits and scored twice, while Lavarnway had three RBI.
“It’s been a rollercoaster year, but today was special. Today was perfect,” explainedDecker after the game. “This has been one of the best experiences I’ve had in professional baseball. I didn’t realise how emotional it was going to be. It’s been a crazy year [playing in three organisations] and ending on this was amazing.”
Kreisberg (0-1) was the hard-luck loser, allowing one run on two hits and three walks in four innings, punching out four. Great Britain allowed 17 baserunners and struck out only five between the six pitchers who took the hill. Four batters hit safely in a game that saw Israel allow only six baserunners.
“Marquis was outstanding,” observed Carroll. “We’ve preached hard-hit balls, but when they’re catching every one, it’s hard. Against good teams, you have to get breaks, and we didn’t.”
“I’m so excited to have gotten to coach them,” concluded Britain’s skipper. “I hope we get invited back so they can play again as they’re a special team.”
Great Britain does not have any tournaments scheduled for the national team in 2017, and will instead focus on its junior teams. Israel, which now has a record of 5-1 in two World Baseball Classic qualifiers, will join South Korea, Taiwan, and the Netherlands in what will be a very difficult Seoul pool at the main Classic, which starts March 7, 2017 across four sites.
This post first appeared on www.mister-baseball.com.