Foul Play: A tie in Taichung for Taipei, Taiwan

"Ain’t baseball great?"

This is what I can only imagine is going through Lars Nootbar’s head.

The crack of a bat, a roaring crowd, it's America’s pastime, and this year, we were treated to a little something special. And while there’s much more baseball content to come, here’s a little taste of the World Baseball Classic.

This year’s already started off strong, with games that could only be considered instant classics. Trea Turner whallopping a grand slam to win the game for the Team USA in the quarterfinals, Puerto Rico’s surprise upset of the dominant Dominican Republic team punching their ticket to the knockout stage, even Italy’s surprise upset of a dominant Netherlands team were all amazing moments in baseball history. With the group round hitting attendance numbers over a million, eclipsing the total attendance for the entire Classic in 2017 and viewership numbers hitting 40 percent in Japan and 60 percent in Puerto Rico, the Classic has gone from another exhibition game to a legitimate tournament for countries to show their skills.

In all this amazing news, there’s a little something that got buried. While other teams were punching tickets and smashing dingers, a little something strange was happening in the neighborhood of Group A, held in Taichung, Taiwan.

Everyone had tied.

Yes, you heard me. All five teams had achieved an identical 2-2 record.

No, I swear baseball isn’t rigged.

After the Netherlands started 2-0 with wins over baseball powerhouse Cuba and Panama, they dropped their last two games in a surprise upset loss against Taiwan and a less surprising loss against Italy. Cuba, after dropping their first two games, came back to win against Taiwan and a blowout against Panama which played a big part in their tiebreaker.

And speaking of that tiebreaker, it was a little contrived, and led to a few raised eyebrows. The WBC was using a method called “Lowest quotient of runs allowed divided by the number of defensive outs recorded in games between the teams that are tied.” Catchy, huh?

Essentially, even though everyone was all tied up, what really mattered was how many runs a team had allowed in their games. Not scored, mind you, allowed.

The group sent Italy and Cuba to the knockout stage over this new tie breaking system, knocking the Netherlands and Panama out for this year, though with an invitation to the next Classic in 2026.

The loser in all of this was Taiwan. The country, registering the lowest tiebreaker value, finished in last place. A last place finish not only knocks them out of this year’s tournament, but also forces them to requalify for next year’s tournament.

It’s a devastating result for a team that played their hearts out. Anything can happen in baseball, and Taiwan did their best in front of their home crowd. Unfortunately, they fell just short.

It’s not all bleak though. The Chinese Professional Baseball League, Taiwan’s professional baseball league, will continue to produce the talent that drives this team. The country loved this year’s Classic, and with record breaking crowds, it may be the host for the next edition of the classic as well. A Taiwanese slugger, Yu Chang, was named Group A MVP, with a .500 On Base Percentage, a .938 On Base plus Slugging, and two home runs. After spending much of his career being tossed around from team to team on waivers, this is a breakout performance, and could be the indicator of a long and illustrious career. But hey, no matter what happens, what we know is a guy who batted a career .213 with 14 Home Runs and 61 RBIs pulled off a miracle when his team needed him the most.

That’s the baseball I come to watch.

All in all, the mess that was Group A probably means that the WBC should take another look at their tie breaking system, but it definitely delivered some amazing games. The Classic is now in the semifinals, with Team USA playing Cuba, and Japan playing Mexico this Monday. It’s bound to be a pair of great games between the four best teams in baseball right now, and I can always root for Mike Trout and Trea Turner to make it entertaining.

“I went out there and played as hard as I could because that’s the only way I know how to play.”
- Ken Griffey Jr.