It was 30 minutes past midnight Friday night in Los Angeles. The game had been going for well over 7 hours. Up stepped tired veteran infielder, Max Muncy, who sent an opposite field home run to left center that won it for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Boston Red Sox in game 3 of the 2018 World Series.
In Tokyo, Japanese fans watched Kenta Maeda play a pivotal role pitching shut out ball in the 15th and 16th innings, helping the Dodgers to victory in the 18th inning. It was after 4pm Saturday afternoon in Japan, which gave die-hard fans a chance to catch their breath, have an early dinner, and settle in to watch game 1 of Japan’s baseball championship series – The Japan Series.
And as the baseball fates would have it, the Hiroshima Carp battled the SoftBank Hawks of Fukuoka into extra innings as well. With a runner on second in the bottom of the 12th, Kosuke Tanaka of the Carp was up with Tomohiro Abe on 2nd with the potential winning run. Alas, Cuban southpaw Livan Moinelo of the Hawks struck out Tanaka, ending the inning…and to the surprise of the casual foreign fan, the game.
Game 1 of the Japan Series ended in a 2-2 tie!
Different from Major League Baseball, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has a rule that a game cannot continue beyond 12 innings, even if the two teams are tied. This is true during both the regular season and the post season. However, it is possible for the best-of-seven championship Japan series to go more than seven games.
For example, if both the Carp and the Hawks win three games each over the next six games, an eighth game will be scheduled, and the teams would play as long as it takes to determine the winner of the decisive fourth victory.
Of course, if there happens to be two ties, a ninth game could be needed, and so on.
Explanations as to why baseball in Japan has this particular rule are vague, and yet the ones bandied about have a whiff of cultural relevance.
Bob Whiting, long-time writer on Japanese baseball, said that “the explanation usually given is that the trains shut down around 11-12 each night so calling game a tie is so fans can go home. But that doesn’t explain the time limit on afternoon games.”
Another explanation of limiting the length of games is related to energy conservation. It’s possible league officials and owners did not like the optics of keeping the bright lights of the stadium on into the late hours of the evening while the average worker had been asked to make efforts to save energy, particularly during the oil shock years of the 1970s.
These optics were worsened again after the March 2011 triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant crisis in northern Japan. As a result, the NPB ruled that games would not be allowed to go into extra innings at all if the game had already passed 3 hours and 30 minutes. Conserving power after the loss of the Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant, and subsequent suspension of almost all nuclear power plants across the country, was the call to action.
There is no energy crunch today in Japan. Most people watch baseball games on TV, not in person. And yet a championship baseball game in Japan can end in a tie.
But as the Hawks manager said after the game, I hope with a straight face, “It was a big tie for us. We’ll be able to take advantage of it.”