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Olympics: Israel routs Mexico to keep medal hopes alive

CM 01/08/2021 12


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Team Israel trounced world no. 5 Mexico 12-5 in a “win-or-go-home” game on Sunday at Yokohama in both sides’ third contest of the Tokyo Olympics baseball tournament.
After losing its first two games, to South Korea and the USA, skeptics were quick to say that Israel’s dream-like fantasy of Olympic glory might not stand up to the light of day, especially with a depleted pitching staff.
But the club stood up to the intense light of the mid-day Japanese sun and the Israeli bats were absolutely red hot, producing a tournament-high dozen runs and 15 hits against a Mexican side traditionally known for its pitching.
Batting first, the blue-and-white batters were quick to rough up Mexican starter Manuel Barreda. With Danny Valencia on first, Ryan Lavarnway launched a rocket into left-field for a double, setting up cleanup hitter Blake Gailen with a chance to bring in both runners with only one out.

Gailen, who has been swinging the bat better every day of the tournament,  sent a screaming liner directly at the second baseman, conjuring up memories of Israel’s lack of situational hitting in its previous losses.
DH Nick Rickles, who has played for Israel since its first World Baseball Classic campaign a decade ago, stepped up to the plate and promptly launched a missile of his own that seemed destined to score two. But a perfect throw (and a questionable call) resulted in Lavarnway’s being out at the plate, again raising doubts among Israel’s hopeful fans.
Josh Zeid, another veteran of Israel’s WBC teams, was called upon to start for the first time in four years. After only two days of rest after 21/3 shutout innings against Korea in Israel’s opener, Zeid took the mound and quickly got three efficient outs. While his 90 MPH-plus fastball and  control were sharp in the opening frame, Zeid seemed to wilt a bit under the unrelenting sun. He fell behind hitters in the second, but in bulldog  fashion retired the side in order again, completing two perfect innings.
Zeid’s tenacity and ability to hold the Mexicans scoreless was all the Israeli bats needed to wake up.
After Bareda generously set the table by walking the first two batters in the third, Valencia thundered a high fastball halfway up the empty left-field bleachers. Then with two men in scoring position, Rickles once again came through, driving them home with yet another timely hit
In the third frame, Zeid lost his no-hit bid and wild-pitched a run home, simultaneously moving a runner into scoring position. Manager Eric Holtz was quick to give Zeid the hook, and despite his strong outing, the former Astro threw down his glove in anger.
“After taking a commanding lead,  I was going out there for a shut-down inning and I let the team down. Fortunately Jake Fishman came in and pitched great and every guy thereafter picked up the next guy.”
Indeed, as Holtz had gamed-planned, a parade of live arms stood up to the Mexican’s furious attempt at a comeback. After closing the gap to 6-5 deficit in the sixth, a resurgent Mexican side seemed confident in its ability to overcome the slim one-run Israel lead.
In addition to Fishman, strong relief pitching by Zach Weiss, DJ Sharabi, and Benny Wanger showed the Mexicans that the Israeli staff might bend but wouldn’t break.
The blue-and-white was also bailed out by stellar defense. Zach Penprase made a diving catch in left-field that would have easily scored a Mexican runner put the go-ahead run in scoring position, and a timely double play started by Ian Kinsler was followed by a highlight film bare-handed grab of a slow grounder by Ty Kelly, who nabbed a speedy runner at first, snuffing out a Mexican threat and stranding a man on third.
This enabled the Israeli hitters to wake up after taking a siesta in the hot afternoon sun over three scoreless innings. The Israelis broke it open in the seventh by batting around the order, scoring six runs – most of which came with two outs – and getting timely hits from Gailen, Mitch Glasser,  Penprase and Scotty Burcham.
Mexican manager Benji Gil was proud of the way his players had never lowered their heads and kept fighting back, but when the Israelis broke it open in the seventh he knew his charges had no way of coming back. As Valencia summed up, “we could have folded but instead we took the wind out of their sails.”
In the postgame press conference, Rickles reflected on his 10 years with Team Israel.
“I don’t think it’s so much about beating Mexico.” he said, “but just to raise awareness for baseball in Israel. For me, I was just taking in the moment. But after the game, seeing the amount of love that we received from people back in Israel…There were messages on top of messages from people just saying thank you.”
Gil characterized the American players as “admirable” for joining Team Israel and noted how they were intent on using their impressive Olympic performance to grow the game in the Holy Land, which would be great for helping baseball flourish on an international level.
“It’s a fairy tale they were able to qualify,” Gil had said last week of underdog Israel. “Many people looked down on them, but hats off.”
Having stepped back from the precipice of elimination, Israelis faces South Korea again on Monday morning (at 6 a.m. Israel time on Sport5) in the next phase of the competition.
A win on Monday would guarantee the Israelis a day off on Tuesday, but more importantly will put them into the semifinals group of four teams that will compete for the three medals on August 7.

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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