The 2017 World Baseball Classic is in full swing, and Team Israel has sprung out of the gate with two impressive wins. Israel came right back after an emotional extra-innings triumph over host Korea in their Pool A opener and put on an offensive show against Chinese Taipei in its second game.
But there is a lot more baseball to be played in the rest of this elite 16-team tournament, and two powerhouses grabbed the marquee Tuesday with a much-anticipated clash in their first tournament appearances this year.
Here's a look at today's games:
POOL A: Gocheok Sky Dome, Seoul, South Korea
Tuesday's (Monday night U.S.) result: Israel 15, Chinese Taipei 7
On Tuesday afternoon Seoul time, in a Pool A game that was broadcast in the prime-time hours of Monday night in the United States, the talented team from Israel won its second game in as many days, following up its Monday upset of host club Korea by knocking off Chinese Taipei, 15-7.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Israel opened the game with four consecutive hits and scored four runs in the first inning. Starter Corey Baker held Chinese Taipei in check with 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball while the Israelis added a pair of runs on a Ryan Lavarnway two-run home run in the third inning.
The 6-0 advantage held until the sixth inning, when Chinese Taipei erupted for three runs, but Team Israel struck right back, scoring five times in the seventh, once more in the eighth, and three times on a three-run homer by Nate Freiman in the ninth to seal the victory. Chinese Taipei scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth.
Israel, which rapped out 20 hits in the win, now has a very advantageous 2-0 record in pool play and some confidence heading into its next game, which is slated for Thursday (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET) against a talented Netherlands team.
Video: ISR@TPE: Freiman's three-run homer pads lead in 9th
"One of the goals is to not put the cart before the horse," Israel skipper Jerry Weinstein said. "We're not in the second round yet. We're preparing for the game with the Netherlands and that's what we're thinking about right now."
POOL A: Korea vs. Netherlands
Tuesday's result: Netherlands 5, Korea 0
The Netherlands wasted little time making its presence felt, thanks to some timely hits and flashy defense from its Major League players.
Rangers infielder/outfielder Jurickson Profar launched a two-run home run to right field in the bottom of the first inning, giving the Netherlands an early lead. Profar's blast, which came on a 3-1 fastball, scored Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who led off the inning with a single.
Red Sox infielder Xander Bogaerts followed with a triple down the right-field line, though Korea starting pitcher Kyu Min Woo was able to settle in and record three straight outs to prevent further damage.
In the second inning, Simmons added to the Netherlands' lead with a double to left to score Randolph Oduber.
Korea needed a win after dropping its first game in excruciating fashion to Israel, losing 2-1 in 10 innings. Instead, Korea is 0-2 in the tournament.
The Netherlands is aiming high for manager Hensley Meulens with a roster that includes big league stars Bogaerts, Simmons and Didi Gregorius of the Yankees. All three are slick-fielding shortstops in the Majors. All three are spread out across one dynamic infield for the Dutch contingent. And all three want to get a team that made it to the semifinals in 2013 even farther.
Video: KOR@NED: Bogaerts gets a triple in bottom of 1st
Team chemistry could go a long way toward that goal, and Meulens is a big part of that.
"How I get it done is just ask them to be a family, ask them to bond together; ask them to go watch movies together, ask them to go watch videos together," Meulens said. "The most important thing is ask them to play as a team and not as an individual, because a lot of times, you get to play as an individual, and you forget about the team concept. I'm all about the team concept and that's what I am and what I oblige guys to do."
POOL B: Cuba vs. Japan
Tuesday's result: Japan 11, Cuba 6
And here was the headliner. Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics (2006 and '09) and the rock-solid and internationally tested veteran team from Cuba is always a serious global contender.
Japan manager Hiroki Kokubu was concerned his team would feel nervous in Tuesday night's World Baseball Classic opener. The nerves went away fast.
Japan took an early lead, broke open the game with a five-run fifth inning and held on for the win to thrill a sellout crowd at Tokyo Dome. Nobuhiro Matsuda led the way with four hits, including a three-run home run.
Video: CUB@JPN: Matsuda hits three-run homer for Japan
The Japanese put the ball in the hands of starting pitcher Ayumu Ishikawa and fielded a team of seasoned Nippon Professional Baseball players without the usual collection of upper-echelon Major League names.
The team known here as Samurai Japan has reached the semifinals each of the first three times the tournament has been played, winning the championship in both 2006 and '09. The Japanese were disappointed by their semifinal loss to Puerto Rico in 2013, and Kokubu wanted a strong showing in the opener to set his team on track to reclaim the title this year.
Cuba figured to present Japan's biggest challenge in Pool B, which also includes China and Australia. But the Cubans didn't get enough pitching, and they fell behind 7-1 before Alfredo Despaigne's solo home run sparked a three-run rally in the seventh inning. Japan survived the rally, and cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo responded with a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh.
While it wasn't a great night for Cuba, 19-year-old right fielder Yoelkis Cespedes made an impressive World Baseball Classic debut. Cespedes, whose older half-brother Yoenis plays for the Mets, doubled and scored Cuba's first run in the third inning, then singled in the seventh and again in the ninth.
The Cuban team does not have any Major League players, but every country in the baseball-playing world knows this nation always puts forth a prepared and talented team that can hold its own with anyone.
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, 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.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.