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Aug '21 03

Tokyo 2020, Game 11: Israel Eliminated by Walkoff Despite Valencia Homer

News - Israeli National Teams, Olympics Comments Off on Tokyo 2020, Game 11: Israel Eliminated by Walkoff Despite Valencia Homer

By Gabriel Fidler. Image of Valencia courtesy of WBSC. 

Danny Valencia hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth as Israel twice mounted comebacks against No. 7 Dominican Republic, but Los Quisqueyanos saved its own crucial rally until the bottom of the ninth, when a combination of big- and small-ball produced two runs and the victory. A pair of Red Sox prospects helped tie the game, including a leadoff shot by Johan Miéses, before Blue Jays’ legend José Bautista smacked a walk-off single through the left side. The 7-6 final ensures that the Dominicans will play for a medal, while Israel’s two-year Olympic journey comes to an end.

Yokohama Stadium received another treat in the first-ever meeting between the Caribbean and Mediterranean heavyweights. With the Dominican Republic bringing back its Game 1 starter Christopher Crisostomo, who was exceptional against top-ranked Japan in the Olympic baseball opener, and Israel tapping Josh Zeid for another start, the ring was set for a well-pitched game.

Los Quisqueyanos struck first, as Emilio Bonifacio hit what will surely be the most unusual double of the Olympics. Lead off the bottom of the first, the long-time major league infielder dropped a crafty bunt down the left side. Somehow, the ball kept rolling and Bonifacio kept running, only stopping at third after a throwing error allowed him to move to third. Top Mariners’ farmhand Julio Rodriguez lofted a flyball to score him.

Crisostomo’s arm was golden in the early frames, as he retired the first nine hitters for Israel. By the time the Blue-and-White finally broke through, the Dominicans had added a second run. Royals’ speedster Jeison Guzmán had singled to start the third, with Ramón Rossó following with a base knock. An errant pickoff throw from the catcher allowed the dancing Guzmán to race all the way home from second.

Israel finally had its first hit with one out in the fifth, by which point it had Nick Rickles on second thanks to an error, with Ty Kelly on first. Zack Penprase struck a single through the left side to break up the non-no, but Crisostomo earned some redepemption when Bautista threw out Rickles at home. However, Mitch Glasser then crushed a two-run double down the right field line to score Kelly and Penprase, motoring home on a Scott Burcham single. Four-time Major League All-Star Ian Kinsler then made it four hits in-a-row with a run-scoring base knock to center.

Zeid’s day came to an end with the score 4-2 in Israel’s favor, but the D.R. tied up the game in Jake Fishman‘s second inning of work. Bautista and Erick Mejía were both issued free passes to start the sixth. Rodríguez, at 20 one of the youngest baseball players at the Olympics, came through once again, lining a single to score Bautista. After Fishman struck out slugger Juan Francisco with runners on the corners, Zack Weiss entered and registered two immediate outs. The first, however, was a grounder from Miéses that scored Mejía.

The Dominicans finally retook the lead in the following frame as Guzmán unleashed a soaring blow over the right field wall in the seventh. Their advantage was short-lived, though, as Valencia’s counterpunch came with Kinsler on first after bouncing a ball through the left side to start the eighth. Weiss struck out Mejía, Rodríguez, and Francisco in the eighth, and the game headed to its final round.

A nifty DP helped new D.R. pitcher Luis Castillo get out of the top half before the first batter, Miéses, drilled a 1-1 pitch well into the left field stands to tie the game. Melky Cabrera followed with a single and Roldani Baldwin dropped a sacrifice bunt to move pinch runner Yefri Pérez to second. After an intentional walk to Guzmán, the bullpen door swung open again and D.J. Sharabi entered, getting the second out on a groundball. The next batter to dig in was Bautista, who has certainly been in his share of do-or-die moments on the diamond. A well-struck ball made its way through the hole and Pérez raced home as the Dominicans celebrated.

Castillo, the fourth pitcher of the day for the D.R., claimed the win. Crisostomo finished with 5 Ks in 4.2 frames, giving up four runs on three hits and two walks. Zeid allowed four hits and two unearned runs in four innings, sending down three on strikes to finish with a 3.12 ERA in 8.2 innings over three games. Weiss struck out five in three innings, but the three runs left him with a ‘L’. Rodríguez – who is tied for the lead in batting average (.500) and hits (8) at the Olympics – was 2-for-3, while Guzmán was 2-for-2 with two walks.

Kinsler, Penprase, and Glasser each had two hits for Israel, with the first slashing .222/.333/.444 in his swan song. Kinsler’s fellow AL infielder, Valencia, currently leads all Olympians in runs (6), home runs (3), and RBI (7), and is No. 7 in slugging (.778) and OPS (1.128). Since joining Israel for its Olympic run, the nine-year MLB veteran has done nothing but mash, hitting nine dingers in 17 games, scoring 19 runs, and driving in 23 runs, hitting .270/.365./.841.

In an Olympics that has delivered electric baseball action, Israel certainly provided its share of the excitement and falls one game shy of a guaranteed place in a medal game. Of the 11 games contested thus far, five have been decided in the final at bat, with Israel now succumbing for the second time to a bottom-of-the-ninth rally. Its trajectory in Japan was similar to qualification: squeaking through the early round with a couple close losses as at the 2019 Euros, a statement win that gave the team hope at its last gasp, and a rollercoaster win against an unlikely rival. In this case, however, the team was one final comeback short. The 12-5 defeat of Mexico, moreover, was only the third time that a nation representing Europe defeated a nine from the Americas in Olympic history (1992: Spain 7–Puerto Rico 6; 2000: Netherlands 4–Cuba 2). Although Israel finished 1-4, smashing world No. 5 Mexico and leading South Korea and the D.R. – ranked No. 3 and No. 7 — through eight innings before ultimately losing by a single run is a real accomplishment for first-time Olympians.


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