Jacob Steinmetz pitched for Team Israel against the Dominican Republic, March 14, 2023, in Miami. (Photo/JTA-Dan Passner)
Jacob Steinmetz pitched for Team Israel against the Dominican Republic, March 14, 2023, in Miami. (Photo/JTA-Dan Passner)

Orthodox pitcher Jacob Steinmetz strikes out 3 Big Leaguers in breakout World Baseball Classic performance

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The final result wasn’t pretty for Israel, but it almost didn’t matter. This night belonged to Jacob Steinmetz.

The 19-year-old Woodmere, New York, native and the first Orthodox Jew to be drafted into Major League Baseball, Steinmetz was the starting pitcher for Team Israel against the Dominican Republic Tuesday in a 10-0 loss in the World Baseball Classic.

The Dominican lineup features big league superstars including Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers and others. Steinmetz entered the game with only scant playing time in the minor leagues. He became the fourth-youngest player to start a WBC game.

You wouldn’t know it. Steinmetz struck out three batters — Machado, a six-time All-Star; two-time All-Star Gary Sánchez; and Jeremy Peña, the 2022 World Series most valuable player. He gave up two hits and one run in an inning and two-thirds while facing the Dominicans’ entire lineup.

Steinmetz’s performance was on par with that of a previously unsigned pitcher, Duque Hebbert of Nicaragua, who nabbed headlines on Monday when he struck out three Dominican Republic players, including Soto and Devers — then immediately landed a contract with the Detroit Tigers. Steinmetz already has a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and plays in the Arizona Complex League.

“It was awesome,” Steinmetz said after the game. “Coming out here in front of a sold-out stadium, with all the Dominican fans and the Israel fans, was something that I’ll never forget.”

Steinmetz said he felt nerves while warming up and coming out to the field. But once he stepped onto the mound, “it’s just a regular baseball game.”

Steinmetz stands out on Team Israel as well as in Major League Baseball as the only Orthodox player. Other players have credited the team for strengthening their connection to their Jewish identities. Steinmetz, by contrast, is the son of Yeshiva University’s men’s basketball coach, graduated from Jewish day school on Long Island and has made provisions in his professional play so that he can observe Shabbat, which traditionally includes refraining from driving.

Steinmetz’s performance ignited Jewish baseball Twitter, with fans marveling at the opportunity to watch the Orthodox prospect on national television. The Israel Baseball Twitter account churned out post after post about the young pitcher.

“It was just unbelievably surreal to watch a kid from our community pitching to those caliber of players on such a big stage,” said Simmy Cohen, an Orthodox sports fan from New Jersey. “I think a lot of the fans were more nervous than he was. But he kept his composure and showed excellent stuff. I was extremely impressed.”

Steinmetz said the support means a lot to him. “Just seeing all that is awesome, knowing there will always be people behind me,” he said.

Team Israel manager Ian Kinsler said the start was an important confidence booster for Steinmetz.

“You saw the talent that he has tonight,” Kinsler said. “It’s a good experience for him, the loudest environment he’s ever going to pitch in.”

Tuesday was otherwise a forgettable night for Israel. Held to only one hit a day after being no-hit, Israel lost in seven innings in a second consecutive game ended early by the WBC mercy rule. Israeli batters struck out 10 times.

Israel will face Venezuela tomorrow at 12 p.m. ET in its final WBC game, with Robert Stock starting.

With Nicaragua’s loss earlier on Tuesday, Israel will officially finish above last place in Pool D, meaning it won’t advance in this year’s tournament but will automatically qualify for the 2026 WBC.

“That’s big for the organization,” Kinsler said.

Jacob Gurvis
Jacob Gurvis

Jacob Gurvis is JTA’s Audience Engagement Editor, based in Los Angeles. He graduated from Boston University, where he studied journalism, Jewish studies, and political science. Jacob has written for The Boston Globe and The Beverly Hills Courier, and he produced an award-winning sports talk show in college. He spends too much time on Twitter @jacobgurvis.

JTA

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