YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — José Bautista had just gotten his first Olympic hit, extending the Dominican Republic's tournament with a walkoff single that capped a ninth-inning rally and eliminated surprising Israel.
Of course, that bat was going to get flipped.
“It's part of this New Age baseball thing that's happening,” the 40-year-old said after Tuesday night's 7-6 victory. “It started in winter ball a few years ago. It's just kind of giving a little bit of your own flavor to the game, a little bit of celebrating the excitement of getting a hit.”
And what excitement.
Israel overcame a 2-0 fifth-inning deficit, wasted a 4-2, sixth-inning lead, fell behind 5-4 when Jeison Guzman homered in the seventh off Zack Weiss and surged ahead 6-5 in the eighth when Danny Valencia hit his third home run of the tournament, a two-run drive off Jumbo Diaz.
Weiss (1-1) had relieved with one out in the sixth, and Israel manager Eric Holtz was reluctant to reach deeper into his bullpen.
Red Sox minor leaguer Johan Mieses led off the ninth with a shot that nearly cleared the left-field seats and left the ballpark, the fourth homer of the Olympics allowed by Weiss.
Melky Cabrera singled, Roldani Baldwin sacrificed pinch-runner Yefri Pérez to second, Guzman was intentionally walked and D.J. Sharabi relieved.
Gustavo Núñez grounded into a forceout that left runners at the corners, bringing up Bautista. The six-time All-Star had been left out of the starting lineup by manager Hector Borg after going 0 for 8, then entered in the fourth inning after Emilio Bonifacio injured a hamstring.
Bautista had walked and flied out before batting in a key spot nearly three years after his last big league plate appearance.
With three infielders on the left side, Bautista took a 1-2 breaking ball that just missed the outside corner, then reached out and grounded another curve that was way outside. The ball bounced between second baseman Ian Kinsler, shifted to the left side of second, and shortstop Scotty Burcham, and into left field for a single.
Bautista took two steps toward first and gave the bat a gentle end-over-end toss — just two full rotations, nothing like the epic flip that followed his three-run homer for Toronto off Texas' Sam Dyson in Game 5 of the 2015 AL Division Series. He was mobbed by teammates in the middle of the infield.
“I'm glad and happy they've picked it up and they’re enjoying it,” he said of his many bat-flip imitators. “This game is for their enjoyment, and the more ways that you can connect with the fans, I think that's great."
The Dominicans (2-2) earned a matchup against the United States (2-1) just 14 hours later on Wednesday. Under the double-elimination format, the winner of that game will play for a gold medal game berth against the loser of Wednesday night’s Japan-South Korea semifinal.
Israel (1-4), in its first Olympic baseball tournament, had knocked out Mexico. The Isrealis had former major leaguers in Kinsler and Valencia and even one with a few at-bats this season in catcher Ryan Lavarnway. While not from Israel, they joined the team because of their Jewish backgrounds.
But the team's pitching was in key innings, to use a Yiddish phrase, “gournisht tzu helfen” — nothing will help you.
Bonifacio led off the game with a bunt that popped over third baseman Ty Kelly into short left field, and Bonifacio slid headfirst into third when Burcham heaved the ball into right field for an error.
Christopher Mercedes, who pitches for the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, was given a 2-0 lead and held Israel hitless for 4 1/3 inning. But he was hit hard in the fifth and was hurt when Guzman misplayed a grounder to shortstop for an error.
Mitch Glasser tied the score with a two-run double, and Burcham and Kinsler had RBI singles. Israel could have scored more, but Bautista threw out Nick Rickles at the plate from left field, his second assist of the Olympics.
Julio Rodriguez hit an RBI single in the sixth off Jake Fishman and Mieses tied the score 4-4 with a run-scoring grounder on a slow roller to third.
Luis Castillo (1-1), a 25-year-old Arizona Triple-A right-hander, pitched a scoreless inning for the win.
Weiss, a 29-year-old right-hander, made his only big league appearance for Cincinnati in 2018. He finished with a 9.00 ERA.
Israel hit .232, topping the Dominicans’ .230 and Mexico’s .200, but its 6.49 ERA was better than only Mexico’s 6.92.
“I want everybody to just see where Israel baseball has come from and where it is now,” Holtz said. “We were one inning away from upsetting the Dominican Republic. People need to see that and hear that. And if we can work and build off that moment and continue to grow and inspire Israelis in Israel to play baseball, then we’re doing our job, and we did our job well.”
Lavarnway hit .350 with two homers and three RBIs.
Kinsler batted .222 with three RBIs. The 39-year-old, a four-time All-Star, sounded exhausted.
“I’d like to stay involved in some capacity. I’m not sure what it is right now,” he said. “There’s no chance of me playing. I feel like I have two bricks tied to my both my feet.”
Glasser, a 31-year-old right fielder who plays for an independant team in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, batted a team-best .412 with four RBIs.
Valencia had seven RBIs. Now 36, he is a nine-year big league veteran who last played in 2018.
“This is going to take some time to get over. It hurts right now, and so be it,” he said. “This is something I’ll remember forever. And hopefully, like Ian was saying, it will inspire people in the country of Israel to pick up a bat and ball and start playing baseball because they saw us on TV having so much fun playing in the Olympic Games.”
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