Israel's surprising squad in the World Baseball Classic lost its first game in the tournament, dropping a rematch with the Netherlands, 12-2.
Then came Saturday night's 4-1 victory over all-time worldwide baseball power Cuba in Tokyo, putting Team Israel one victory away from a trip to the final four at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Israel beat the Netherlands in the final game of Pool A play in Seoul, Korea, and although the outcome only mattered in terms of seeding, Gregorius grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of the 4-2 loss last Wednesday, the Netherlands' last viable threat. A loss to Japan would complicate matters significantly for Israel: At 1-2, it would need help from Cuba and the Netherlands to avoid being eliminated outright, depending on how Tuesday's action plays out. Those rules have already come into play and caused controversy in Pool D, where Mexico was initially pegged to play in a tiebreaking game against Italy, only to be replaced by Venezuela when the math was redone.
Nate Freiman put Israel on the board with a home run in the fourth.
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But it was Gregorius who did much of the damage, the New York Yankees shortstop keying a four-run fourth inning with a three-run blast into the Tokyo Dome's right field bleachers.
"We are a great hitting team and we believe in ourselves and that's what you saw tonight", Balentien told reporters.
But the Israelis swept their way through the first round with wins against Korea, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) and the Netherlands, and opened the second round with a 4-1 win against Cuba.
"Before the game, we didn't know Israel had such good players", Marti said through an interpreter.