From A to Zeid: Team Israel a 'scary blend'

From A to Zeid: Team Israel a 'scary blend'

TOKYO -- If he keeps doing what he's doing, Josh Zeid will find himself in a Major League bullpen soon enough.

It might be the bullpen at Dodger Stadium, where Zeid's surprise Israel team could be headed for the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. Or it might be the bullpen of a big league team that decides to sign Zeid, a 29-year-old right-hander who hasn't found a job but keeps doing his job at this Classic.

Zeid got the final four outs Sunday, in Israel's 4-1 second-round-opening win over Cuba. He has appeared in three of Israel's four games, going six scoreless innings while allowing just one hit.

"I've never played with or seen anyone who wants it as much as Josh Zeid," Israel first baseman Nate Freiman said. "And we can see that when we play behind him."

Zeid accepted the compliment, but turned it back to his teammates.

"I really do [want it]," he said. "We all do. That's why we're dangerous. These are guys fighting to get jobs, fighting to stay in this game we love. That's a scary blend we're putting out there."

It doesn't hurt to be able to throw a baseball 96 mph, as Zeid did when he came out of the bullpen Sunday. He took over for Brad Goldberg, a 27-year-old White Sox reliever who also hit 96 mph on the radar gun.

"These guys we have at the back end have really got good stuff," catcher Ryan Lavarnway said. "We trust them, and they trust their stuff against the hitters."

The Israel bullpen showed its stuff against Cuba, after veteran starter Jason Marquis worked the first 5 2/3 innings. Zack Thornton got four outs, Goldberg got two and Zeid added the final four.

Marquis' strong start

Goldberg was on Team Israel for last September's qualifying tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., but he skipped the first round in Seoul so he could remain in Major League Spring Training with the White Sox. He worked 4 2/3 scoreless innings in four Cactus League appearances, and when Israel qualified for the second round, he flew to Japan to join the team.

"I considered [going to the first round], and the White Sox were great about it," Goldberg said. "But my number one goal has always been to get to the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox. I talked to [pitching coach] Don Cooper and [manager] Rick Renteria after the first round, and they were fine with me coming here.

"It's not like I was coming here for a vacation."

Goldberg gave up an infield hit to start the eighth, before retiring the next two batters. When he walked Frederich Cepeda to bring up Alfredo Despaigne as the potential go-ahead run, manager Jerry Weinstein turned to Zeid, the closer who had pitched so well in the first round.

Zeid and Lavarnway knew Despaigne was Cuba's most dangerous hitter, and they also knew that with two out and third base open, they could afford to walk him.

"We were going to see if we could get him to chase, but we didn't want him to be the guy who beat us," Zeid said. "If you give him a pitch he can handle, he has enough power to hit it through the dome."

Zeid ended up walking Despaigne on four pitches, then got out of the eighth when William Saavedra rolled over an 0-1 slider and grounded to third.

It was another impressive performance, for Israel and for Zeid. It got Israel a step closer to the semifinals, and perhaps it got Zeid closer to getting another chance with a Major League team. He made 48 appearances with the Astros in 2013-14, but he spent the last two seasons in Triple-A with the Tigers and Mets and became a free agent when the '16 season ended.

"My family supports my dream 100 percent," he said. "Even if this doesn't help, I can say I went out and gave it everything I had. Every emotion you saw out there was real. Every pitch I threw was the best I could do at that time.

"There's nothing that beats this game. The success we can have in this game, that's why we do it."

So far, the World Baseball Classic has been a big success for Zeid, and for Israel. Both player and team believe there's more to come.

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.

Daniel Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.