August 1, 2021

By Paresh Dave

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) -Three strikes and they’re out: Mexico’s run in baseball at Tokyo 2020 ended Sunday after a 12-5 loss to Israel left them without a win in three chances.

Mexico’s disappointing departure from their first Olympic baseball tournament followed just one extra-base hit over their first two games and a rough start on Sunday from pitcher Manny Barreda, whom Israel pounded for six runs in three innings.

Israel punched another six runs in the seventh inning when hitting against one-time Major Leaguer Oliver Perez, whose untucking green jersey as scores mounted seemed to signal defeat.

“Not even in my worst nightmares did I think this could ever happen,” a shocked Mexico coach Benji Gil said of the loss.

Israel on Monday face the winner of a game later on Sunday between South Korea and Dominican Republic.

Mexico, which had a goal of upstaging their medal-contending soccer team at these Games, encountered several challenges in the weeks before reaching Japan. Trying to attract fans after the pandemic cancelled last year’s season, Mexican league teams stopped their players from leaving early for Olympic training.

Disagreement between administrators and the coach over whether a former slugger past his prime should make the roster led to a new coach at the last minute.

The Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball could not allow top hitter Brandon Laird join Mexico because of insurance reasons, and then two pitchers, including a potential ace, who tested positive for COVID-19 had to be replaced days before action began.

“It’s a lot,” Mexico reliver Juan Oramas said of having to overcome the missing pieces.

On Sunday, Mexico scored most of their runs in the third inning against Israel starter Josh Zeid, whose day job is coaching Chicago Cubs pitchers recovering from injury.

Mexico pulled to 6-5 in the sixth before Israel’s bullpen shut them down.

Israel’s Danny Valencia took a ball hanging over the plate to well past the left-field wall, which is 94 metres (308 feet)from home plate, for a three-run homer and likely the tournament’s longest blast (official records are not being kept).

“I got my pitch and I hammered it,” he said. “To be honest, I crushed that ball.”

Nick Rickles, whose normal job involves interviewing new patients at a Las Vegas rehab facility, also had three runs batted in for Israel.

“It’s a fairy tale they were able to qualify,” Mexico’s Gil had said last week of underdog Israel, which also are new to the Olympics.

“Many people looked down on them but hats off,” Gil said in admiration.

Unfortunately for Mexico, the caps are not coming back on.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Shri Navaratnam)

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