Did the Hanshin Tigers deserve to play in this year’s Japan Series? The team finished second in the Central League pennant race, seven games behind the league champion Yomiuri Giants, but the Tigers advanced to the CL Climax Series Final Stage with a controversial victory over the Hiroshima Carp in the Climax Series First Stage.
Hanshin then knocked off the Giants in four straight games to earn a Japan Series slot opposite the Pacific League pennant-winning Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
American reader Mike Cantor of W. Bloomfield, Michigan, wrote to say: “In my chat group, I posted a topic with a title that the NPB was minor league for the rule which gave Hanshin its victory in the Climax Series first stage with a walk-off tie. I backed off my ‘minor league’ crack, since I have watched several games the last few years and know how high the caliber of play is in the NPB.
“Can you give any insight into the overall Japanese reaction to the rule, since it is apparently the creation of the owners and the players’ union? Has the Japanese press bashed this rule or is the reaction one of contentment?”
Mike, the NPB rules giving ties and home-field rights for all games to the higher-ranked team in both Climax Series stages, the one-game advantage to the first-place team in the Final Stage and the pennant winners not necessarily becoming the Japan Series representative have all been criticized.
With a typhoon approaching, there was even talk about a situation where the Tigers could also have advanced — and gotten credit for a phantom victory — if the second game against the Carp game had been rained out.
It is what it is — Japanese baseball.
Concerning the tie games, at least NPB has made the wise decision to not play the bottom of the 12th inning after a Climax Series — but not the game — has been decided. That was not the case three years ago at the 2011 Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage at Fukuoka Dome.
The Hawks had defeated the Seibu Lions in the first two games of the best-of-six (awkward sounding, isn’t it?) series. Having been given the one-game advantage as the pennant winner, the Hawks needed only one more win — or a tie — to advance to the Japan Series.
Prior to the third game, I happened to bump into the home plate umpire in the runway between the field and the press room, and I asked him, “If today’s game is tied after the top of the 12th inning, and the series is decided, will the bottom of the inning be played?”
A puzzled look came across his face, and he ran into the umpires’ room, presumably to call a league official for the answer which, it seemed, no one knew, as the potential situation had not been considered. It did come up, however, as the game was tied 1-1 after 11½ innings.
At that point, the Hawks had won the series — but not the game — and the bottom of the 12th was played. Fukuoka scored a run for a true walk-off victory. But, was it necessary to continue the game? What if a star player had been seriously injured during that last half-inning that really had no meaning?
Hanshin’s victory over Hiroshima in Game 2 of this year’s Climax Series was not really a “walk-off tie.” A walk-off, which in Japanese is a “sayonara,” occurs when the home team wins in its final at-bat with less than two outs in the bottom of the ninth or extra innings. This was not the case in that game.
Then again, maybe Japanese baseball has invented the “walk-off tie.”
In another apparent example of not knowing what to do, Japanese sports papers did not include the “x” in the line score for the Tigers in the bottom of the 12th. The space was left blank, and it appears the editors did not know how to handle this situation which had never come up before.
While all the aforementioned special rules for the Climax Series have been questioned, they were accepted in 2007 as a compromise to get the Central League and Pacific League to follow the same guidelines.
They are what they are — Japanese baseball.
At least in the Japan Series, there is no one-game or home-field advantage, and any tie (after 15 innings) would require another game, making it possible for an eight-game series as played between the Lions and Hiroshima Carp in 1986.
So far, Japanese baseball has not adopted the major league practice of giving home-field advantage in the finals to the team representing the winning league in the summer All-Star Game. The Japan Series continues to alternate opening in the Central and Pacific League home parks every other year.
That might be just as well — there are two All-Star Games played in Japan and, this past summer, the series was split, and there have been 10 ties played in Japanese baseball All-Star history.
This year’s World Series participants, the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, were designated as National and American League champions, respectively, even though both finished second in their divisions and made the playoffs as wild-card teams.
The second-place Hanshin Tigers represented the Central League in this year’s Japan Series, but the Yomiuri Giants are the CL champions.
It is what it is — Japanese baseball.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.