It's been a successful couple of days here in Israel for the Ra'anana Express. After losing a close game on Sunday to the Modi'in Miracle, the Express brought out their A-game for the Netanya Tigers on Monday night. The Tigers starting pitcher struggled to find his control for most of the night, but for whatever reason, our baserunning resembled a bunch of six year olds in a little league game. We were picked off twice, got thrown out at third two times, and kept swinging at terrible pitches. Finally, after five and a half innings, all of which I'm sure were painful to watch from the stands, our dugout came to life. It was as if the baseball gods themselves arrived at that very moment. We were tired of performing poorly offensively and letting their guy off the hook inning after inning. With a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth, our leadoff hitter stepped up to the plate. Knowing that he needed to get on base, he crowded the plate, giving the Netanya starter as little a strike zone as possible. It worked! A leadoff walk led to a steal which led to a ground ball to shortstop, productively moving the runner to third. I was due to hit third that inning.
It was evident that their pitcher was tiring, so the Tigers went to the bullpen. They decided to go with a right-hander from Columbia with a mid 80's fastball and devastating changeup. My coach wanted me to bunt at the first pitch. "Let's see if we can safety squeeze to get this run in Jesse," he said. As they brought their infield in, I thought to myself how the safety squeeze probably wouldn't work because of it. Well, sure enough on the first pitch, I squared to bunt and fouled it straight back into the crowd. Maybe the baseball gods really were there. The 0-1 pitch was a fastball high. As I stepped out of the box, my mind was going faster than Sir Isaac Newton's on the day he discovered gravity. What was he going to throw? Where did I want to hit it? Should I try and lay down another bunt?
I decided that he was going to come with a fastball. Surely he wouldn't throw something offspeed, risking a ball in the dirt getting by the catcher. As luck, or the gods, would have it, I was right. The ball came in around 86 mph and left my bat twice as hard while sailing over the right field fence. I had done it. The home run was one of the hardest balls I have ever hit and more importantly, it gave our team the lead we so deeply desired.
We went on to hold them scoreless in the top of the seventh and won the game 3-1. Needless to say I was walking on air the whole night. It felt good to contribute offensively because through the first 10 games I might as well have brought a toothpick up to the plate. All that was behind me now though.
See, the thing about professional baseball, as I'm now learning, is that there is no rest for the weary. Day after day we go out there. What happened yesterday has no bearing on today, and today no bearing on tomorrow. By Tuesday night, my home run was old news and it was time to take on the lowly 1-10 Petach Tichvah Pioneers. It was a chance for us to win two in a row...for the first time all year. We scratched and clawed the whole game and pulled out a 4-2 victory. My roommate and starting pitcher, Travis Zeir, pitched a solid 6 1/3 innings and got his first W of the year.
With each inning we play, our team is beginning to understanding its limitations. While we aren't going to win many games 10-7 or 13-6, with solid defense and a very good pitching staff, we will be able to stay in most games until the late innings.
Our next two games are against Bet Shemesh, the powerhouse of the league. We have a chance to quickly climb up the standings and are poised to continue winning if we play well.
On a different note, the league has decided that all six teams will make the playoffs. The top two seeds will have a first round bye. The third will play the sixth seed, winner to play the second, and the fourth will play the fifth, winner to play the first. This is a much better format than the original one game championship, as teams that are 15-25 after 40 games will still have something to play for.