Israel falls to Netherlands to suffer first loss in World Baseball Classic

Monday March 13th, 2017

The streak is over, and so might be any semifinal hopes. Israel, which had shocked and stunned the world by winning its first-round group at the World Baseball Classic and then upset Cuba in its first game of the second round, finally took its first loss of the tournament, falling to the Netherlands, 12–2, in Pool E action. The defeat snaps Israel's four-game winning streak at the WBC and leaves the team in potentially perilous position to qualify for the semifinals, with Israel now likely needing a win against two-time champion Japan in order to move on.

Monday's game in Tokyo was a rematch of Pool A play for both teams, in which Israel had downed the Netherlands, 4–2, to win the group. Facing a likely must-win game to stay alive in the tournament—the Netherlands had lost to Japan in 11 innings to open Pool E play on Sunday—the Dutch got their revenge and then some, scoring 10 runs in the first four innings and battering Israel starter Corey Baker and relievers Jeremy Bleich and Danny Burawa. Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius paced the Netherlands with five RBIs, including a three-run homer in the fourth, and Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons contributed three hits atop the lineup.

Israel got on the board on a Nate Freiman solo homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to nine, but that was as close as things got, as former MLB starter Jair Jurrjens limited Israel to one run over six innings, striking out five. Israel had a chance to strike early after Ike Davis doubled with two outs in the bottom of the first, but Jurrjens got Freiman to ground out to second, and the Netherlands scored twice in the second and never looked back.

The Dutch win leaves both them and Israel at 1–1 in second-round play; elsewhere in the pool, Cuba is 0–1, and Japan is 1–0. Israel has one game remaining in the round, with a Wednesday morning matchup against host Japan still on the docket. A loss to Japan would complicate matters significantly for Israel: At 1–2, it would need help from Cuba and the Netherlands to avoid being eliminated outright, depending on how Tuesday's action plays out. If multiple teams finish at 2–1 or 1–2, tiebreakers would come into play, with runs allowed per defensive inning played as the first determinant toward who moves on. Those rules have already come into play and caused controversy in Pool D, where Mexico was initially pegged to play in a tiebreaking game against Italy, only to be replaced by Venezuela when the math was redone.

Israel has been the talk of the tournament so far. Making its WBC debut after winning the final tournament qualifier in September, Israel came into group play as the lowest-ranked team in the competition but upset South Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands to take first place in Pool A. The team, comprised almost entirely of American Jews, has become a fan favorite for its tenacious style of play and its mascot, the Mensch on the Bench, which has drawn a huge following in its games in Seoul and Tokyo.

Pool E play resumes on Tuesday, with Cuba facing Japan at 6 a.m. ET, followed by Cuba playing the Netherlands at 11 p.m. ET.

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