Israel upsets Cuba to continue improbable run in World Baseball Classic

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, left, and pitcher Josh Zeid of Team Israel celebrating after defeating Cuba in the World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome, March 12, 2017. (Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, left, and pitcher Josh Zeid of Team Israel celebrating after defeating Cuba in the World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome, March 12, 2017. (Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

(JTA) – Israel upset Cuba, 4-1, in the second round of the World Baseball Classic, continuing the team’s unlikely run in the tournament.

After falling behind, 1-0, in the second inning Sunday, Israel took control with four consecutive runs. Four pitchers held the heavily favored Cubans to five hits, with starter Jason Marquis going 5 2/3 innings.

Israel moved to 4-0 in the international tournament in winning its opener of the second round and likely would secure a spot in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles with a victory in one of its next two games – against the Netherlands on Monday and Japan on Wednesday.

Israel was the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the showcase tournament, coming in at 41st in the world. But last week in the first round, the Israelis squeaked past third-ranked South Korea, 2-1, in extra innings, outscored fourth-ranked Taiwan, 15-7, and defeated ninth-ranked the Netherlands, 4-2, to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record.

This is the first year that Israel has qualified for tournament. In 2012, its inaugural WBC squad narrowly missed advancing past the qualifiers.

Most of the players are American Jews, among them several former major leaguers. World Baseball Classic rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on its team. Jews and their grandchildren, and the grandchildren’s spouses, have the right to become Israeli citizens.

Baseball is little watched or played in Israel. But for the small local baseball community, which includes many American immigrants, Israel’s run in the tournament has been thrilling. The team’s mascot, a life-size doll of an Orthodox Jew called Mensch on the Bench, has highlighted the club’s Jewish identity to the world.

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