team israel players looking dejected
Team Israel players seen in the dugout prior to their World Baseball Classic game against Japan in Tokyo, March 15, 2017. (Photo/JTA-Matt Roberts-Getty Images)

After a string of surprise wins, Israel strikes out of the World Baseball Classic

Israel was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic with its second straight loss Wednesday, but left the 16-nation tournament with a legacy for the sport in Israel after a surprising run to the second round.

The Israeli team, made up almost entirely of American minor-league players and former major leaguers, lost 8-3 to host Japan this morning and will not advance to the semifinals in Los Angeles.

It was the second straight defeat in the second round for Israel, which shocked the baseball world with four straight wins to open the tournament — all against much higher-ranked teams.

Israel, 41st in the world rankings, was the only team in the tournament not ranked in the world top 20. But the Israelis swept their way through the first round with wins against Korea, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) and the Netherlands, and opened the second round with a 4-1 win against Cuba.

The team included three former Oakland Athletics — center fielder Sam Fuld, catcher Ryan Lavarnway and first baseman Ike Davis. Santa Rosa’s Gabe Cramer, a former Stanford star and current minor-league pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization, also was on the team.

WBC rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on its team. Jews and their grandchildren, and the grandchildren’s spouses, have the right to become Israeli citizens.

Manager Jerry Weinstein said the team’s performance at the WBC, which drew praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could help popularize the sport in Israel, which has few baseball fields and where most of the interest comes from Americans who have moved there.

“Maybe there will be kids who want to be the next Sam Fuld or the next Ryan Lavarnway who had no idea about them before,” Weinstein told reporters in Tokyo after the loss to Japan. “It gives them role models. The players were put on a pedestal worldwide. That will inspire all kids, but especially Israeli and U.S. Jewish kids.”

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Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster is J.'s senior writer. He can be reached at rob@jweekly.com.