It was a historic day in the Olympic Baseball tournament, as the new ‘extra innings’ rule was implemented for the first time in a major international event in two of the four games.Â The rule worked as intended, bringing swift but still exciting finishes to both games.Â Â
The new rule would have immediately won favour with the locals, as China beat Chinese Taipei in twelve innings.Â The official play-by-play reveals that Chinese Taipei’s Che-Hsuan Lin and Chih-Wei Shih were the first two players to be placed on the basepads under the new rule in the eleventh inning.Â After Chien-Ming Chang advanced both runners via a sacrifice (presumably a bunt), China decided to walk the next batter to load the bases with one out.Â Pitcher Jiangang Lv was able to induce a groundball and his infielders did the rest by turning the double play, always the ‘pitcher’s best friend’ but even more so in this situation.Â China started the bottom of the eleventh inning with runners on first and second, needing only one run to win the game.Â However, the lead-off batter hit into a force out at second and with runners on first and third, the next two batters could only manage two fly outs to end the inning.Â
After battling through this precarious position, Chinese Taipei must have thought they had the game wrapped up when they scored four times in the top of the twelfth.Â Yet China staged a stunning comeback to score five times in the bottom of the inning to walk off as victors by a final score of 8-7.Â The 1,600 strong crowd must have been in raptures at the end of it all, with the home nation prevailing in such thrilling fashion.
It was no surprise that the heavyweight clash between Cuba and the United States also proved to be a close contest.Â They could not be separated after nine innings (the score tied at 3-3) and with both teams being unable to score in the tenth, the game headed to the ‘extra innings’ rule phase yet again.Â The U.S. brought in Jeff Stevens to pitch the top of the eleventh and, unfortunately for him, he followed his blown save against Korea in game one with another loss.Â The Cubans got the lead-off bunt down to sacrifice the runners over to third and second, before Michel Enriquez hit a single to bring home both base runners.Â With the U.S. only able to plate one of their runners in the bottom of the inning, the Cubans took the win by a final score of 5-4.
While the need for a rule to bring games to a close more quickly is a matter of some debate, the International Baseball Federation will be pleased that it has had the desired effect so far.Â Certainly the way the dynamics shift in the extra innings, with baserunners ready to be knocked in, creates a dramatic end to the games.Â This appears to be one fundamental rule change implemented that may actuallyÂ stand the test of time, although don’t expect it to be adopted by Major League Baseball any time in the next century.
After the action-packed morning games, the two matches staged in the Beijing evening were relatively straightforward, it not lacking in incidents.Â The Netherlands made it three games without scoring a run, managing only four hits against Japan in a 6-0 loss.Â The Dutch were always going to find it hard to reach the semi-finals and now their aim will simply be to leave the Olympics with a win or two to their name (and a few runs as well).Â The game between Canada and Korea was a great pitching duel.Â Korea were only able to get three hits and one run off the Canadian pitching staff, but the meagre run support turned out to be enough for the win as Korea’s Hyunjin Ryu pitched a complete game shutout.Â Although Canada out-hit their opponents (5 to 3), they were unable to take advantage of their opportunities and left eight men stranded.
Day Four preview
There are two big local derbies on day four, with the United States taking on Canada and Japan facing Korea.Â These pairings produced some memorable games in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and more of the same is expected.Â The unbeaten Cuba team look to make it four wins out of four in their game against Chinese Taipei, while the Netherlands will be hoping their batting lineup shows up for the first time in the tournament against China.