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Israel qualifies for Olympic baseball for 1st time

Israel qualified for the Olympic baseball tournament for the first time, with former major leaguer Danny Valencia hitting a three-run homer in an 11-1, eight-inning rout of South Africa on Sunday at Parma, Italy.

Israel earned the Europe/Africa berth and joined host Japan in the six-nation Olympic event, to be played from July 29 to Aug. 8 at Fukushima and Yokohama, Japan, as part of the Tokyo Games. Valencia, 35, was released by Baltimore after the 2018 season. The nine-year big league veteran, who was born in Miami, obtained Israeli citizenship this year. He homered off Derek Baylis in a four-run eighth inning.

The Israelis took a 4-0 lead in the second after losing pitcher Jared Elario loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter with no outs. Garth Cahill relieved, Simon Rosenbaum had a sacrifice fly, Mitchell Glasser walked after the bases were reloaded and Blake Gailen hit a two-run single.

Winning pitcher Joseph Wagman allowed one run and six hits in seven innings with six strikeouts and a walk. The United States, managed by Joe Girardi, will attempt to qualify at the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament. The Americans start play from Nov. 2-5 at Jalisco, Mexico, in a group with the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Netherlands. The top two teams in the group advance to later rounds in Japan, which will produce two qualifiers.

Baseball is returning to the Olympics after being dropped for 2012 and 2016. Cuba won the gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2004, the United States in 2000 and South Korea in 2008.

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