Freiman's second two-HR day lifts Israel into finals
JUPITER, Fla. -- Brad Ausmus, Team Israel's manager and a special assistant with the Padres organization, received a text message after Nate Freiman swatted two homers in Wednesday's 7-3 win over South Africa.
It was from Josh Byrnes, San Diego's general manager: "Tell Freiman to keep raking."
Ausmus expected to get a similar text Friday night after Freiman bashed two more homers, driving in all of Israel's runs in a 4-2 win over Spain at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers at Roger Dean Stadium.
Freiman's two blasts, and another strong pitching performance, will send Israel to the final game of the qualifying round Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. Spain, meanwhile, will look to avoid elimination Saturday night against the winner of Friday night's contest between France and South Africa. Fans can watch both games live on http://worldbaseballclassic.com.
"If Nate keeps hitting, there'll be no stopping him," Ausmus said. "The organization's definitely watching."
"Baseball's just a game where you have enough at-bats over enough time, good things will happen and bad things will happen. It's good to see the ball," said Freiman, who has driven in six of of Israel's 11 runs in its two wins at the Classic. "It was nice to get a couple runs for the team."
This matchup promised to pit the bracket's top two teams against each other, and it resulted in a crisp, well-played game early on. Neither team flinched through the first five scoreless innings, as Israel right-hander Justin Schumer dueled with Spanish lefty Richard Salazar before Israel finally broke through in the sixth.
Ben Guez led off the inning with a fly ball to center field that Spain's Engel Beltre got under but dropped, allowing Guez to wheel around to third base. Freiman came to the plate with one out and bashed a 2-1 pitch from Salazar over the left-field fence to give Israel a 2-0 lead. Spanish manager Mauro Mazzotti admitted Salazar might have pitched differently to Freiman without the tie-breaking run at third base.
"Probably. Probably more carefully. We couldn't walk too many guys because the score was too close, and these guys, they don't have any weak points from one to nine," Mazzotti said. "You have to pitch everybody carefully. We were trying. We did a hell of a job, to tell you the truth. But these guys are a very good group because, I don't care who you face, if you hit four home runs in two games, you're doing something real good."
Spain struck back in the bottom of the sixth, cutting Israel's lead to one run on an RBI single by Rafael Alvarez and a throwing error by Guez. But that was all Schumer, David Kopp, Richard Bleier and Josh Zeid would allow.
"Quite frankly, [Schumer] could've gone a little bit deeper into the game if we had a little more breathing room," Ausmus said. "Our entire staff, the four guys who pitched for us, did an outstanding job. They held a legitimate team to one run. They got their hits, but we were able to hold them to one run."
And Freiman made sure their efforts would be rewarded with another win, blasting a two-run shot to center field off lefty Ivan Granados in the eighth inning. Mazzotti said Granados was looking to pitch around Freiman by pounding the ball inside the strike zone, but he let one get to the outer half of the plate, and Freiman reached out and got a hold of it.
These two teams figure to meet again in Sunday's qualifying round final Sunday afternoon with much more on the line. This is a modified double-elimination tournament, meaning Spain could advance to the main tournament in March with just one win over Israel on Sunday. In other words, Israel's two big wins -- and Freiman's four big homers -- could go for naught without another win Sunday.
"Our work's not done. We don't have the luxury of being able to absorb a loss on Sunday," Freiman said. "So, it was great -- we're happy right now -- but our work's not done here. Our sights are set on Sunday."