The 2017 World Baseball Classic began in dramatic fashion on Monday, with Israel beating Pool A host Korea, 2-1, in 10 innings in the tournament's opening game.With MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in attendance at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Israel finally broke through in the top of the 10th.
The 2017 World Baseball Classic began in dramatic fashion on Monday, with Israel beating Pool A host Korea, 2-1, in 10 innings in the tournament's opening game.
With MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in attendance at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Israel finally broke through in the top of the 10th. With runners on first and third and two outs, Scott Burcham stepped in against Korea's Chang-Yong Lim and slapped a two-strike grounder up the middle. Korean second baseman Geonchang Seo made a sliding stop to keep the ball in the infield, but he had no play on any of the runners, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
Josh Zeid closed out the game for Israel, including striking out Korea slugger Dae-Ho Lee -- who hit 14 homers for the Mariners last season -- to end the game.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
The win puts Israel in a good spot heading into its next game, which will be against Chinese Taipei tonight at 10 ET. Beating Chinese Taipei would make Israel a favorite to advance to the second round. Korea, meanwhile, will need to rebound when it takes on the Netherlands on Tuesday, or it risks being knocked out of contention in pool play for a second straight Classic.
"It means we have a win in the bank. That's all it means," Israel manager Jerry Weinstein said. "Other than that, it means that we've got to get ready to play tomorrow, which will not be easy, especially with this late night and very adrenalized emotional ballgame."
Right-hander Jason Marquis started for Team Israel -- which was playing its first Classic game -- and pitched three scoreless innings. The 15-year Major League veteran allowed two hits and struck out three before leaving with Israel holding a 1-0 lead.
Korea's starter, left-hander Won-Jun Chang, kept Israel's bats mostly in check over four innings, allowing one run on two hits and striking out five, thanks mainly to an effective slider. But some control issues in the second inning led to an Israel run -- Chang walked three in the frame, including Tyler Krieger with the bases loaded.
"Our pitchers gave up a lot of walks, so command was a problem, and they gave up chances to the other team," Korea manager In-Sik Kim said. "And in our chances, we failed to score the runs. That was the problem."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Marquis and Zeid impressive and efficient: On the mound, Marquis and Zeid's performances were key for Israel. The pair combined to hurl six scoreless innings to book-end the win, allowing only three hits between them and collecting seven strikeouts. Not only that, they preserved their availability for the remainder of pool play. Both pitchers stayed under 50 pitches, with Marquis ending his day at 45 pitches and Zeid at 49. Under the Classic's pitch-count rules, that means both only need one day of rest before they can pitch again -- meaning Marquis could return to start Israel's third game against the Netherlands, with Zeid again an option out of the bullpen.
"That was our strategy. That is what we were trying to do," Weinstein said. "We were committed to Zeid pitching until we won or lost the game tonight, so it wasn't like we had a grand plan for Zeid, but we definitely had one for Marquis. [Korea] attacked the strike zone very aggressively and we were fortunate to keep both those guys in a position where they can pitch in a couple days against Netherlands."
Oh dominates: Cardinals closer Seunghwan Oh, Team Korea's only Major League player, came in in a critical situation and overmatched the Israeli hitters. With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning, and the game still tied at 1, Kim called on Oh, who rang up Burcham to end the inning. Oh remained in the game for the ninth and pitched a scoreless frame, including two more strikeouts. The 34-year-old has now pitched in all four World Baseball Classics.
"Today, Oh pitched really well," Kim said. "When Oh was in the bullpen at the end of the game, when he relieved, he was prepared for the game. I hoped that he could stop the opponent, and he did very well."
Missed opportunities: Israel loaded the bases three times in the game, but came away with only one run, on Krieger's walk in the second. With two opportunities to break open a tie game late, the Israelis came up empty. In the seventh inning, they loaded the bases with two outs against Hyun-Seung Lee. Blake Gailen worked a 3-0 count, and after taking a strike, he thought he had drawn a go-ahead walk as Lee's offering came in on the low border of the strike zone. But the pitch was called a strike, and on 3-2, Gailen lined out to end Team Israel's threat.
An inning later, Israel left the bases loaded again. With one out, Changmin Lim induced a check-swing grounder from Krieger on a full count, and Korea got the force at home. Then Korea brought in Oh, who kept the game tied.
"It's not easy, because [the other team is] not about to let you [score]," Weinstein said. "There are no freebies out there, and certainly the Korean pitchers were outstanding and they had a lot to do with it."
Seo ties the game: Seo came through for the home team in the fifth inning with a game-tying base knock. Facing a lefty-lefty matchup against Jeremy Bleich with one out and runners on first and second, Seo jumped on the first pitch he saw and sliced a clean shot through the left side. The single scored Kyoung-Min Hur for the Pool A hosts' first run of the tournament.
"This has to be it. This has to be the top, top win as a team, I think in my career. I've been lucky enough to be part of a couple of championships in the lower levels in the Minor Leagues and in high school, but nothing compares to this stage." -- Zeid, on Monday's win
"Today our No. 3 hitter and No. 4 hitter failed their mission. That's why we had just only one run. But as for changing the lineup, I think I will maintain the lineup." -- In-Sik Kim, after Tae-Kyun Kim and Dae-Ho Lee went a combined 0-for-8 with four strikeouts and eight men left on base.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Oh's outing was his 10th Classic game for Korea spanning the four tournaments. That's the most outings of any pitcher in Pool A and tied for fifth-most all-time in the Classic. After his 1 1/3-inning, three-strikeout effort on Monday, Oh has a 2.25 ERA and 13 strikeouts in eight innings in his Classic career, as well as two saves.
Israel: Next up for Israel is a matchup against Chinese Taipei. After their win over Korea, another victory would put the Israelis in a strong position to advance to the second round of the Classic. Israel will be the road team against Chinese Taipei in the game, which starts at 10 p.m. ET on Monday.
Korea: The Koreans will now face what is essentially a must-win game against the Netherlands. The Dutch will be the home team when the two countries play at 4:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament will be 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, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, 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 based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.