PRIDE OF THE MACCABEES: Ben Guez, a top Detriot Tigers prospect, takes batting practice before a game against South Africa.
But Lipetz quickly walks three, loading the bases. The dugout stirs; Shlo-motion is yanked. A new pitcher enters, and after a few meaningless runs, a pop-out ends the game. Israel wins. Rain falls in sheets. Lipetz half smiles on his way to the clubhouse, explaining what he muttered when Ausmus pulled him: "Ben zona (son of a bitch), ahu sharmuta (brother of a whore), kus rabak (God's pussy). The last two are a mix of Hebrew and Arabic—two-state jams, you could call them."
Back at the hotel, in a common room, guys are laughing and watching a YouTube video of Cody Decker jousting with another player, using foam pipes and wearing catcher's pads, in a minor-league locker room they'd prefer to never see again. It's never felt farther away. Team Israel's on a roll.
It's the morning of the final game, and Fish is shaving in the hotel bathroom after a solid night's sleep. Israel beat Spain two days ago, thanks to another two-homer game from Freiman. "If Nate keeps hitting," Ausmus tells reporters, "there will be no stopping him." Then Spain beat South Africa (which had already knocked out France), setting up a grudge match between the two favorites. In the improbable event that the two catchers in front of Fish go down, he'll be ready. "We're gonna go out like savages if we win today," he says, visualizing a seedy club in South Florida filled with reveling Jews. Lipetz is stretching beside his bed, trying to focus on the present. "The first one kind of traumatized me," he admits, referring to his failure to close out South Africa. "But I know everyone wants to see the token Israeli come in again."
In the locker room before the game, Pederson applies temporary tattoos to his arms—"dragons and stuff"—while the rest of the guys sign balls and jerseys: These items will be very valuable one day, they think, especially if they win. Finally, the team gathers around Coach Ausmus, a small man with a strong voice, who says, "I don't have a Knute Rockne speech for you. Just go out there and do what you do best."
In the first inning, Pederson scores on a Shawn Green single, the vet's first meaningful hit of the tournament. In the second, a relief pitcher takes a bathroom break and reports to Lipetz that buckets of champagne have been placed in the locker room. But Fish looks on helplessly from the bullpen as Spain keeps hitting "squibbers and seeing-eye singles." Spain's fans are fewer, drunker, and louder than Israel's. Their pitchers are wilder too. But their offense is showing no letup.
It's tied 7–7 going into the bottom of the ninth. With a man on second, Pederson shoots one to right. "That's the ball game," Ausmus says—his players lean toward the field. Lipetz spits out his dip. Fish shuffles to the edge of the third-base line, shouting, "Joc shit on that ball!" But Spain's right fielder is perfectly positioned for the catch.
The strike zone has been shrinking all game: Earlier in the ninth, Cutler was ejected for muttering to the ump, "You're fucking blowing this." With Israel reeling, Spain scores on a two-out two-run single in the top of the 10th. Israel has one last chance . . .
And they go down one-two-three. Game over. Tourney over. Spain's conquistadors dog-pile on the mound; Jews will not dance in the streets.
The locker room is silent, the champagne gone. "This hurts more than any loss I've ever experienced," Ausmus says, pacing.
Most of the players stay up all night before their flights home, rehashing each pitch. Fish, as ever, seeks the silver lining: "In a week, guys with no connection to Israel were transformed. Everything came together as planned. Well, almost everything."