Yesterday saw the inaugural implementation of the new game-shortening rule, in a Pool B game between Puerto Rico and Chinese Taipei at the IBAF AAA World Junior Championships, a tournament that Iâ€™ve been following a lot more closely than I would have if the new rule were not in place.
The significance of the game was that the winner avoided a quarter-final clash with the top team from Pool A, the US. Chinese Taipei, batting second, took a 1-run lead in the 4th inning and managed to defend that narrow margin all the way until the top of the 9th, when Jan Vasquez drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly. The game remained tied at 1-1 through 10 innings, which meant that the teams would bat in the next inning with runners automatically placed on first and second base.
My attempts to reconstruct what happened in the 11th from the box score have led me to a disconcerting conclusion. Looking at the Puerto Rico batting statistics, the top two spots and bottom two spots in the line-up amassed 4 plate appearances each, while the middle five spots had 5 plate appearances. This, in itself, is not the problem, as it can be happily explained by the new rule (which teams can use to skip spots in the order between the 10th and 11th innings). The problem is more that five players came to bat in an inning which started with two players already on base, yet no runs were scored. The only explanation I have for this is that the players who were placed automatically on base were charged with a time at bat. Since this unfairly deflates their batting averages, this is totally wrong in my opinion. (If my interpretation of the box score is erroneous, then I will happily retract this comment).
Unlike Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei were able to score in the 11th inning, with the game-ending run crossing the plate after one out. Perhaps no-one was more relieved than Che-Ming Su, the winning teamâ€™s pitcher, who had hurled all 11 innings (without conceding an earned run), although I suspect that Dr Harvey W Schiller, IBAF President, was also fairly happy that the rule did its job on debut.
For the record (in case you ever find yourself in a pub quiz with a round on international junior baseball), the first players to be automatically put on base were Kevi Fontanez and Jobdua Moralez, while the first player to come to bat was Xavier Lopez.