Israel drops Great Britain for 1st Classic berth

Three homers, strong pitching carry team in 'very emotional' victory

September 25th, 2016

NEW YORK -- Team Israel has reached a goal it has been pursuing for the past four years.

The Israelis have made it to the elite 16 of the World Baseball Classic, vanquishing an extra-inning elimination loss that has haunted them since 2012.

With Sunday night's 9-1 victory over Great Britain ending the Brooklyn qualifier at MCU Park, Israel will move on to play in Pool B at Seoul, beginning March 7 against host South Korea, Chinese Taipei and The Netherlands, completing the field of 16 nations for next year's fourth Classic.

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"I try to approach every opportunity I get with as much passion as I can," said , the former Major League right-hander who started for Israel and pitched four perfect innings. "It was definitely our goal to win this little qualifier and get to the main event if that's what you want to call it."

Israel did it on the strength of three homers -- a pair of fifth-inning, two-run shots by center fielder Blake Gailen and catcher , who played five years in the Major Leagues for the Red Sox, Orioles and Braves. , a career Minor Leaguer, hit another one in the seventh.

Israel swept its three games the past four days on Coney Island, defeating Brazil and Great Britain twice. The pitchers allowed just three runs in the trio of games and three hurlers had a no-hitter heading into the eighth inning until British second baseman broke it up with a two-out single.

Great Britain wound up with four hits in all, this coming off a three-hit shutout of favored Brazil on Friday. In all, the Israelis allowed just the three runs on 14 hits in the tournament.

Their pitching depth allowed Marquis, who came off Tommy John surgery and hadn't pitched since 2015 with the Reds, a chance to catch his breath in a comeback of sorts for the 38-year-old, who spent 15 years in the Majors with nine teams.

Marquis tossed 41 pitches in his first start and 43 more on Sunday night.

"I didn't want to overextend myself and put my team in a hole," Marquis said. "I told them I'd give them everything I can for as long as I can. Could I have squeaked out a few more pitches? From my competitive side, sure. But we had some fresh arms in the bullpen very capable of getting the job done. That was a big part of our success. We have a lot of depth in pitching. And they did a great job tonight."

In 2012, Israel lost a heartbreaker to Spain in the 10th inning of the qualifying final at Roger Dean Stadium, in Jupiter, Fla., a defeat that has been "gnawing on us for four years," this year's manager Jerry Weinstein said before the bracket opened on Thursday.

The previous team was managed by Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus.

That loss was still painful, said Decker, who also played for that Israel squad.

"But I'm not even thinking about that now," Decker said after the win. "This is very emotional. Highly emotional. More emotional that I'm letting on."

Israel is a neophyte baseball nation with barely 1,000 people playing the game, Weinstein said, although interest jumped 40 percent after its 2012 performance. The team this year was replete with a number of Americans of Jewish heritage, including 13 players from Major League Baseball organizations.

On the roster was also former Major League pitcher .

The makeup of the team that will gather in Korea in March will certainly be different and is still to be determined. Players on the 25-man roster of all the Major League teams are all eligible to play in March, which could cause some decision-making angst, Weinstein said.

"I feel very loyal to the group of guys who got us there," Weinstein added. "Regardless of physical ability, we have an obligation to a lot of the guys on this team that have made the commitment to be with us for this. For me as a manager, I'm connected to these guys who helped us get there."