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The Central League has decided to consider instituting a playoff system beginning in 2007, but we may be seeing postseason play between two CL teams a lot sooner.

Like, maybe next month.

The Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons could be headed for a best-of-three playoff series that would kick in if one team has a better winning percentage but the other has more victories after the final standings are decided.

What makes this a halfway decent possibility is the fact that, through games of Sept. 8, the Tigers have played five tie games, while the Dragons have had only one draw. Hanshin could end up in first place by percentage but have one or two fewer victories than Chunichi.

Pennant races in both leagues here have always been decided by percentage and there have been times in the past when a team won the flag with fewer victories than the second place team, because of the imbalance of that dreaded third factor, the tie game.

For example, the Seibu Lions won the 1988 Pacific League crown with a record of 73 wins, 51 losses and six ties. The Lions played .589 baseball and beat out the runnerup Kintetsu Buffaloes, who won 74 games. But the Buffs lost 52 and tied four for a winning percentage of .587, two points behind Seibu.

In 1974, as Shigeo “Mr. Giants” Nagashima was retiring, his team missed a 10th consecutive pennant when the Kyojin were bested by the Chunichi Dragons by a single percentage point, even though Yomiuri had 71 victories and Chunichi only 70. The final records were: Dragons 70-49-11-.588; Giants 71-50-9-.587.

Unlike the Pacific League which staged playoffs following split seasons from 1973 through 1982 and introduced a three-team playoff system in 2004, the Central circuit has never experienced intraleague postseason play, but it could happen now.

Wouldn’t that be exciting, and you can bet playoffs at Koshien Stadium and Nagoya Dome would draw two or three more sellout crowds.

The Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers will embark on a most unusual series this week.

The Central League rivals will play two games over three days at venues 954 km apart, with a travel day in between.

The first game takes place at the Big N Stadium in Nagasaki, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, and the “series” concludes at Tokyo Dome on Thursday, Sept. 15, after the clubs fly from Kyushu to the capital on Wednesday, the 14th.

The Giants were to have played a game in Nagasaki as part of a three-game Kyushu series in April against the Yakult Swallows, after playing two games at Fukuoka Dome. But the Big N was not available then, so the commitment was made to play a single game there in September.

Sure hope it does not rain in Nagasaki, but could you imagine the New York Yankees playing the Boston Red Sox a game in, say, Little Rock, Ark., then taking a day off for travel before playing the second game of that series at Yankee Stadium? Only in Japan.

Reader Roy Lew wrote in with a followup to last week’s column in which I pointed out opportunities for fans to get some great discounts on tickets to Japanese pro baseball games, using group sales and advance sale techniques.

Roy asked, “What about getting discount tickets for Yomiuri Giants games? In July I bought 17 outfield seat tickets for a group of California high school students. I asked the ticket lady if there was any discount for this large group, and she looked at me blankly and thought I was out of my mind. I just remarked to her that this is part of the reason why Giants games don’t sell out anymore.”

I bought 18 tickets to the Giants-Chunichi Dragons game for Sept. 10 at Tokyo Dome and also got no discount. But that day should be coming.

It was not all that long ago you could not buy more than two tickets to a Giants game — period.

If they continue to have games that are not sold out, I can see a time soon when even the mighty Giants will provide discounts for groups and advance purchases.

In the meantime, take the kids to another Japanese ballpark where they will appreciate your business and look at you with a bright-eyed smile rather than a blank stare.

Finally this week, on the opening weekend of the 2005 National Football League season, allow me to use the “Baseball Bullet-In” for a suggestion regarding that other sport.

Several years ago, on a visit to Tokyo, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was asked why his league plays only exhibition games in Japan, while Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have all played regular-season games here.

He responded by saying each NFL team has only eight home games, and fans in the home towns would not want to give up one of them.

But perhaps, he said, if there came a time when one of the team’s stadiums became unavailable for some reason, the league might consider playing an official game at Tokyo Dome or other stadium in Japan.

Unfortunately, the New Orleans Saints are homeless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the damage the storm wrought upon the Louisiana Superdome, where the Saints play their home games.

The team is looking for alternative places to play and may be forced to endure a 16-game road schedule, with possible “home” games in places such as New York, San Antonio and Baton Rouge, La.

So, how about shifting a game to Tokyo, where a portion of sponsorship money and collection boxes for fans at the gates could help raise needed money to assist victims of the disaster?

Readers can contact Wayne Graczyk by e-mail at wsgraczyk@yahoo.com

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