Israel’s national baseball team upset Cuba 4-1 in the World Baseball Classic, continuing its unlikely run in the tournament.
After falling behind 1-0 in the second inning Sunday, Israel took control of the game, driving in four consecutive runs and holding the heavily favored Cuban team to just five hits. The game was the first of the second round and gave Israel a 4-0 record in the international tournament.
Israel was the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the showcase tournament, coming in at 41st in the world. But last week in the first round, the team squeaked past third-ranked South Korea 2-1 in extra innings, outscored fourth-ranked Taiwan 15-7 and defeated ninth-ranked the Netherlands 4-2 to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record.
This is the first year the Israeli team has qualified for tournament. In 2012, Israel’s inaugural WBC team narrowly missed making the tournament.
Most of the players are American Jews, among them, several current and former Major League Baseball players. World Baseball Classic rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on that country’s team. Jews and their grandchildren, and the grandchildren’s spouses, have the right to become Israeli citizens.
Baseball is little-watched or played in Israel. But for the small local baseball community, which includes many American immigrants, Israel’s run in tournament has been thrilling. The team’s mascot, a life-size doll of an Orthodox Jew, has highlighted the team’s Jewish identity to the world.
Israel will play the Netherlands again Monday and Japan on Wednesday.