Israel came into the 2017 World Baseball Classic an underdog, but after sweeping through the first round, the team looks like anything but.
The Israelis beat the Netherlands, 4-2, at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Thursday to win Pool A with a 3-0 record. They jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead and held on against a strong Dutch team boasting its fair share of prominent Major Leaguers. In the country's first Classic, Israel will advance to the second round.
Ryan Lavarnway, a non-roster invitee of the A's, was named Pool A Most Valuable Player. He batted .556 with a .692 on-base percentage, .889 slugging percentage, one homer, three walks and three RBIs while catching all three of Israel's victories.
"I think that coming into the tournament, a lot of people saw us as huge underdogs, but we never saw it that way," Israel right fielder Zach Borenstein said. "And as far as what it means for Israel, it's huge. It gives more recognition to baseball and hopefully more attention on baseball and Israel."
The Dutch will advance, too -- both teams had already punched their ticket before the game by virtue of their 2-0 starts in Pool A, with each having beaten host Korea and Chinese Taipei. Israel and the Netherlands will slot into Pool E, which begins at the Tokyo Dome this weekend. The top two teams from Pool B, which includes Japan, Cuba, Australia and China, will round out the pool.
"We played a good round," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "We won the first two games. We're heading to Tokyo and we're going to have to play well to get to the finals."
The second round, like the first, will follow a round-robin format, with the top two teams advancing to the Classic's championship round at Dodger Stadium. Israel will play in the first game of the second round, on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET against the runner-up from Pool B, live on MLB.TV. The Netherlands will play against the Pool B winner at 6 a.m. ET on Sunday, live on MLB.TV and MLB Network.
"Our goal going into Tokyo is the same as our goal coming into Seoul, and that's to advance to the next round," Israel first baseman Nate Freiman said. "Coming into Seoul, saying we are coming into this pool and we want to advance, that might have struck some people as a little unlikely. But I think now, maybe a little bit less."
Trailing, 4-1, in the eighth inning on Thursday, the Netherlands got the go-ahead run to the plate against Israel, loading the bases with one out and two of its stars, the Orioles' Jonathan Schoop and the Yankees' Didi Gregorius, coming up. But right-hander Josh Zeid -- who also closed out Israel's Classic-opening win over Korea -- got out of the jam with only one run coming across.
Zeid forced what should have been a double-play ball from Schoop, but second baseman Tyler Krieger's throw to second was too high and everyone was safe as the Dutch made it a 4-2 game. But Zeid then induced another tailor-made grounder from Gregorius, and Israel turned two to escape the inning. Zeid stayed on to pitch a scoreless ninth and earn his second save.
The two starting pitchers only went an inning apiece before each team worked in a full slate of relievers. Israel's 38-year-old Jason Marquis, who was starting his second game of the first round and seems likely to get the ball again for the second-round opener, tossed a scoreless inning before being lifted. The Netherlands' Rob Cordemans, who at age 42 has now pitched in all four World Baseball Classics, allowed three runs.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Israel's fast start: The Israelis wasted no time jumping on the Netherlands. They racked up four hits and two walks in a span of seven batters in the bottom of the first inning, opening up a 3-0 lead. After Ty Kelly drew a walk to get things started with one out, Ike Davis flared an opposite-field single, Freiman ripped an RBI double into the left-field corner, Borenstein followed with an RBI groundout and Lavarnway singled home Israel's third run.
Diving Dutchman: Schoop, part of the Netherlands' stacked infield along with the Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts, the Angels' Andrelton Simmons and Gregorius, flashed some leather to stop Israel from adding to a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth. With runners on first and second and two outs, Borenstein smoked a ball up the middle. But the Orioles' second baseman made an impressive diving stop to his backhand, then threw from his knees to Gregorius to force the runner at second and end the inning.
Burcham helps out his pitcher: Not to be outdone by Schoop, Israel shortstop Scott Burcham made a slick defensive play to quash a Netherlands rally before it began in the seventh inning. The Dutch had the leadoff man on when Dashenko Ricardo chopped a comebacker at reliever Dylan Axelrod. Axelrod snagged the chopper but wheeled and threw wild in the dirt to the right side of second base. Burcham, on the run to the bag, somehow scooped the throw on a short hop, held the bag with his foot, avoided the runner bearing down on him and tossed to first to complete the double play.
Profar continues to shine: One of the bright spots for the Netherlands in the first round of the Classic was the Rangers' Jurickson Profar. Profar went 3-for-3 with two doubles against Israel to finish play in Pool A with a .545 average (6-for-11), a team-leading 1.583 OPS, a home run and three RBIs. More >
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Israel is the first team to go undefeated in the first round of the Classic's main draw after emerging from one of the qualifiers. The previous best record for a team that came from the qualifiers was Chinese Taipei's 2-1 finish in Pool B in 2013 (which was good enough to win the pool on tiebreakers).
WHAT'S NEXT Netherlands: As the second-place finisher in Pool A, the Netherlands moves along to the second round, where they will play alongside Israel and the top two finishers from Pool B. They play their first game Sunday at 6 a.m. ET at the Tokyo Dome against the Pool B winner. Watch it live on MLB.TV and MLB Network.
Israel: The winner of Pool A, Israel will now play the opening game of the second round of the Classic. That will be against the second-place team from Pool B at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday in Tokyo. Watch it live on MLB.TV.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.