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Tokyo 2020

Israel’s Olympic baseball team pounded 8-1 by US, further dimming medal hopes

After defeat by MLB prospects and released players, Ken Hultz’s squad will face lowest-ranking team from other group, must win that game to remain in contention

Israel's Scott Burcham, right, dives and cannot reach a ball picked up by Rob Paller, center, as Blake Gailen (2) looks on during a baseball game against the United States at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 30, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)
Israel's Scott Burcham, right, dives and cannot reach a ball picked up by Rob Paller, center, as Blake Gailen (2) looks on during a baseball game against the United States at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 30, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Speedskating silver medalist Eddy Alvarez put the US ahead with the first of his two RBI doubles, as the United States beat Israel 8-1 in the Americans’ Olympic baseball opener on Friday night.

Danny Valencia, whose last big league season was 2018, drove in Israel’s lone run when he hit a fastball over the left-field wall leading off the fourth, cutting the lead to 3-1.

But the deficit only grew from there and Israel dropped to 0-2 in Group B of its Olympic baseball debut — the second loss in as many days, after dropping a game in extra-innings against South Korea on Thursday.

Ken Hultz’s squad will face the lowest-ranked team in Group A of the bracket on Sunday and will need to win in order to remain in contention for a medal.

Israel’s Joey Wagman (0-1), a 30-year-old righty who has never pitched above Double-A, gave up three runs and four hits in three innings.

Showing how far from the usual farm systems the Olympic baseball players come from, Israel brought in 42-year right-hander Shlomo Lipetz to relieve in the sixth inning. His day job is director of music programming at City Winery in New York.

Israel’s Shlomo Lipetz comes in to pitch in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the United States at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 30, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

The US’s Tyler Austin hit a two-run homer, doubled twice and drove in three runs in his home ballpark, where he plays for the  Japanese Central League’s Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

Denied players on 40-man major league rosters, the US started a mix of prospects unneeded by major league teams this summer and released players. Nine of the 10 starters totaled a career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of -1.0; the exception was Todd Frazier at 25.1.

Joe Ryan (1-0), a 25-year-old Triple-A right-hander acquired by Minnesota last week in the trade that sent Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay, relied on a 92 mph fastball. He allowed one run and five hits in six innings with three strikeouts.

Alvarez, who earned a 2014 medal in short-track speedskating, is now a Miami Marlins’ Triple-A player and was a flag bearer during last week’s opening ceremony. He looped a hanging curve off the end of his bat into short left field in the three-run third at empty Yokohama Stadium.

Austin, a former Yankee playing, drove a high fastball on the next pitch over the right-center field wall for a 3-0 lead.

Frazier reached when Ian Kinsler bobbled his grounder in the sixth for an error and scored when Bubba Starling popped the ball into short left field and it hit off the glove of diving shortstop Scotty Burcham for an RBI single.

United States’ Eric Filia, right, steals second base past Israel’s Ian Kinsler during the eighth inning of aa baseball game at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 30, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Alvarez and Austin hit consecutive RBI doubles in the seventh off Jonathan de Marte after center fielder Blake Gailen dropped Jamie Westbrook’s leadoff fly ball for an error.

Starling added a run-scoring grounder in the eighth, and Boston prospect Triston Casas singled in a run in the ninth.

Israel’s national baseball team, which is ranked 24th in the world, overcame significant odds to qualify for the Olympics, where only six countries’ teams are facing off for the three medals. In 2017, Israel beat South Korea at the World Baseball Classic in an upset, and went on to finish sixth overall, despite entering the tournament ranked 41st.

Just four of the 24 players on Israel’s team were born in Israel, where there is little to no baseball presence. But the team’s players have indicated that a successful Olympic run could change the situation on the ground in the Jewish state.

Despite a roster with virtually no household names, Vegas oddsmakers gave Israel a 50 percent chance of medaling.

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