Max Muncy
Max Muncy after his walk-off homer in the 18th inning of Game 3 of the 2018 World Series.

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!

Japan Series Game 1 score

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.”

2018 Japan Series Game 1

End of the 12th inning and Game 1 of the 2018 Japan Series
strasburg-fowler-cahill-arrieta
Stephen Strasburg, Dexter Fowler, Trevor Cahill and Jake Arrieta with their bronze medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

They are a dying breed. Since baseball was dropped from the Olympics as an official sport from the 2012 London Games, there are fewer and fewer Olympic medalists still playing in the Major Leagues.

But as it turns out, three of them are on the Chicago Cubs, the recently crowned world champions. As you can see in the picture above, very young versions of Dexter Fowler, Trevor Cahill and Jake Arrieta were on the bronze-medal winning American team that competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the last time that baseball was played in an Olympics.

By my count, there are 12 major leaguers who have won a medal in baseball in the Olympics, and played in the 2016 MLB season. Baseball premiered at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Incredibly there is still one player from all medalists in the 1996 Olympics who is still playing in the majors – R. A. Dickey, a 42-year-old pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays.

  1. RA Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays, who won bronze for Team USA at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
  2. Koji Uehara of the Boston Red Sox, who won bronze for Team Japan at the 2004 Athens Olympics
  3. Lee Dae-Ho of the Seattle Mariners, who won gold for Team Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  4. Oh Seung-hwan of the St Louis Cardinals, who won gold for Team Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  5. Ryu Hung-Jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won gold for Team Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  6. Brett Anderson of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  7. Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  8. Trevor Cahill of the Chicago Cubs, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  9. Brian Duensing of the Baltimore Orioles, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  10. Dexter Fowler of the Chicago Cubs, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  11. Kevin Jepsen of the Tampa Bay Rays, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  12. Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Don’t forget. Baseball is coming back to the Olympics at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Which major league stars of today will still be Olympians in four years: Mike Trout? Bryce Harper? Noah Syndergaard? Mookie Betts? Maikel Franco? Manny Machado? Nolan Arenado? Francisco Lindor? The entire Chicago Cubs infield?