The Israeli national baseball team lost to the Netherlands 12-2 Monday in the World Baseball Classic, marking the Jewish state’s first defeat of the tournament.
The Netherlands jumped out to an early 10-0, scoring two runs in the second inning, followed by four runs apiece in the third and fourth innings before the Israeli squad got on the board with a solo home run in the fourth inning from first baseman Nate Freiman.
Despite tacking on another run in the eighth inning, the outcome of the game felt foregone for the Israelis.
Israel will now face hometown favorite Japan on Wednesday in a game the squad will need to win if it is to ensure it advances past the second round of the group stage into the semifinals, barring a number of highly unlikely tiebreaker scenarios.
In surprising world baseball heavyweights Cuba on Sunday 4-1 to start the tournament 4-0, Israel cemented its status as the darlings of the World Baseball Classic despite entering the tournament ranked 41 in the world, the lowest-ranked and last team to qualify.
In the first round, the Israelis beat third-ranked South Korea 2-1 in extra innings in the opening game before topping fourth-ranked Taiwan 15-7 and ninth-ranked Netherlands 4-2 in quick succession to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record.
Nearly all the members on Team Israel are American Jews. According to WBC rules, a player may compete for a country if he is eligible for citizenship under its laws. Israel extends the right of automatic citizenship to Jews, their non-Jewish children, grandchildren and the non-Jewish spouses of their children and grandchildren.
For the small Israeli baseball community, the run has been nothing short of astounding. The country has only three baseball-specific fields and only about 1,000 active players who are well accustomed to fielding incredulous questions from native-born Israelis about their funny gear and the difference between a home run and a strikeout.
Israel’s WBC games haven’t been broadcast on the national sports channel and have been mentioned only briefly in the media. Most Israelis likely aren’t even aware they have a national team or understand it is competing against the world’s best in the sport’s most prestigious global event.
That includes the country’s sport minister. Asked in a radio interview whether she was planning to travel to South Korea, Miri Regev had no idea what was happening there. When pressed, she said she knew a baseball team existed but not much more.
“I may be the sports minister but I don’t pretend to know every player and every team in detail,” she said on Army Radio. “My job is to promote them… Obviously it is not one of the preferred fields that we invest in.”
Agencies contributed to this report.