Things looked rough for Team Israel in the bottom of the eighth inning, as Nicaragua was up 1-0 with their best reliever, Yankees’ right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga on the mound at the World Baseball Classic.
But Team Israel mounted a comeback at loanDepot Park in Miami on Sunday, tying the score on a single by Spencer Horwitz which scored pinch runner Jakob Goldfarb from second. A perfect throw might have gotten Goldfarb, but the throw sailed way over the catcher’s head.
Garrett Stubbs, a backup catcher for the Phillies who played third base for Team Israel, lined a ground-rule double to left field for what would be the game-winning hit, giving Team Israel the 3-1 lead.
Robert Stock retired Team Nicaragua in order in the ninth, striking out two of the three hitters he faced.
Team Israel loaded the bases in the first inning and had two men on in the second, but could not score off starting pitcher Ronald Medrano. But the team was able to get him out of the game by driving up his pitch count.
Center-fielder Joc Pederson, who plays for the San Francisco Giants, and is the best player on Team Israel, had a double and also made a sliding catch in the field on a ball lined to his left.
The game was broadcast on Fox Sports 2.
The cameras showed fans wearing kippot and waving an Israeli flag. One fan had a shirt that read “Shlo-Motion” for famed pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, a 6-foot-4-inch reliever who has a day job booking music acts at City Winery in New York City.
“The Nicaraguan fans were some of the most fun, patriotic and electrifying,” Noam Weissman, our executive vice president at Unpacked who attended the game, said. “But, getting the win and seeing the fans sing ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ for Team Israel was something I won’t forget.”
“Baseball can be a slow sport, but if you add a splash of nationalism, it gets a heck of a lot more fun,” he added.
It was a bizarre game in which the home plate umpire had a wide strike zone early on. When Pederson hit the ball down the third base line, it was wrongly called a foul ball, and the umpires convened and ruled it was a double.
A replay showed the ball hit the line and was fair.
On a force out at home, Nicaragua’s manager apparently argued that Team Israel catcher Ryan Lavarnway’s slide into home prevented Nicaragua’s catcher from throwing the ball to first or a possible double-play. The ruling was that it was a legal slide.
Loaisiga went 9-4 with a 2.17 E.R.A for the Yankees in 2021 and 2-3 with a 4.13 E.R.A in 2022, and is viewed as the best player on Team Nicaragua.
Team Israel’s first game was an important one as Nicaragua is the weakest of the teams they will face. The top four teams in Pool D automatically qualify for the next World Baseball Classic.
Team Israel will face Puerto Rico on March 13, which boasts Mets closer Edwin Diaz. On March 14, they play against the Dominican Republic, the favorite to win the entire competition with stars like Juan Soto and Manny Machado of the Padres, and American League Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners.
Then the team plays Venezuela, which boasts several MLB stars like Jose Altuve of the Astros and American League batting champion Luis Arraez of the Minnesota Twins. A win for Team Israel in any of these games would be a major upset.
The team is managed by former all-star Ian Kinsler whose father is Jewish. He became an Israeli citizen and played for Israel’s Olympic Team in 2021. Kinsler is a special assistant to Texas Rangers General Manager Chris Young.
Team Israel shocked the world in the WBC in 2017, winning its first four games and finishing sixth overall despite being ranked 41st.
It sparked a documentary called “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger, and can be viewed on Amazon.
A second documentary, “Heading Home 2: Return of The Mensch,” in reference to the “Mensch on The Bench,” a doll that appeared on “Shark Tank” and was in the dugout for Team Israel games, is being shown at select events. That film details the team’s run in the Olympics.
Originally Published Mar 13 2023 08:26PM EDT