After losing to Spain on Saturday, South Africa manager and Athletics scout Rick Magnante said that Israel was the favorite in Sunday's championship game of the Jupiter World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament "hands down." He added, "That's not to be disparaging to Spain, and anything can happen in one game. But Israel is the better team and has better pitching. They are like a Double-A or Triple-A All-Star team."
But Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti took offense when Magnante's comments were relayed to him, saying, "He better think about beating Spain before he talks. He better mind his business."
Mazzotti's team then backed up his tough words. Spain battled back from a first-inning 2-0 deficit against Israel and didn't fold after giving back a late lead. Then Spain rallied in the 10th inning, getting a two-run, two-out single by shortstop Yunesky Sanchez and holding on to beat Israel 9-7 and win the tournament. Spain qualifies for the 16-team main World Baseball Classic field, which begins in March.
Israel was indeed the favorite thanks to a lineup chock-full of Double-A players, and Israel already had beaten Spain once in the event, a 4-2 victory powered by a pair of Nate Freiman homers. Spain kept Freiman in the ballpark and won despite an 0-for-5 performance by its most accomplished hitter, Mexican League batting champ and ex-big leaguer Barbaro Canizares. He left 11 men on by himself, and Spain had 12 LOB as a team.
Despite Canizares' struggles, Spain banged out 15 hits, four of them by Sanchez, a Cuban emigre who played in the Diamondbacks and Pirates' systems and played for the Somerset Patriots in the independent Atlantic League this season. Sanchez batted immediately behind Canizares and picked him up twice in the late innings. His RBI single in the eighth inning gave Spain a 7-6 lead, but Israel rallied to tie the game and send it to extra innings. Sanchez then came through in the 10th with his two-out single off losing pitcher Josh Zeid (Astros), with a base hit that scored Engel Beltre (Rangers) and Paco Figueroa.
"We really fought tonight," Zeid wrote on Twitter. "I left all I had out there but It wasn't enough."
Lefthander Ivan Granados, a former Athletics farmhand and native of Venezuela, was one of Spain's heroes and got the victory in relief. He got the final eight outs, getting two key outs in the seventh inning (though the tying run scored on a passed ball) and striking out Josh Satin (Mets) to end that threat. He got Satin on a 6-4 forceout to end the game.
Another hero for Spain was ex-Twins and Rays farmhand Eduardo Morlan, who got 10 outs in the middle of the game while giving up only one hit and two walks while striking out three. Morlan's fastball hit 95 mph on the TV radar gun.
Israel went 2-1 in its first trip to the WBC, but in this modified tournament format—double-elimination until the one-game championship—its loss came at the wrong time. It means Israel will not get to have the likes of Ryan Braun, Kevin Youkilis and others American Jews who could have played for Israel had it qualified for March.