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December 18, 2014

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Ice Ice Billy

Baseball game in Japan goes 50 innings; kids go 0 for 18

On a 1955 episode of “You Bet Your Life,” a female contestant told Groucho Marx that she had 16 siblings because her father loved children. “Well,” Marx replied, “I like pancakes, but I haven’t a closet full of them.”

And with this, Marx described a significant modern-day impediment facing the Major League Baseball product. The games are too long.

As reported on ESPN recently, 25 minutes could have been saved in one game by simply enforcing the rule that makes it illegal for hitters to step out of the batter’s box – a rule that surely would have annoyed former MLB procrastinator Mike Hargrove, the Human Rain Delay.

Those who identify this as a problem are seeking to compete with Twitter’s 140 character limit and Vine’s maximum 6-second video. Groucho Marx would have been a great Twitterer.

Having to leave a set of $45 seats when the 7th inning begins at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday satisfies few. A world filled with diminishing attention spans is such a valid concern that the independent Atlantic League has implemented a number of rules that include:

• A limit of three 45-second time outs

• A reduction in warm-up pitches

• Substitute runners for catchers who reach base

• No-pitch intentional walks.

But none of this could have helped shorten a game during the 59th National High School Rubber Baseball Tournament in Japan –- a tilt between Chukyo High versus Sotaku High that took 50 innings over four days to settle.

Each team’s starter threw complete games, with Chukyo High starter Taiga Matsui weaving a 709-pitch shutout, notching the win after a 50th-inning, three-run rally. When it was done, Japan’s version of ESPN had the highlights in the form of a mini-series.

Though it’s been called a pitcher’s duel, I contend the two hitting coaches need to regroup. I have sought the box score for proof, but evidently it would have required too many gigabytes to post on line. And so, there is so much to infer.

Sotaku High School lost after its hitters were held scoreless, scattering 26 hits. That’s in the neighborhood of 176 official at bats for the SHS Grounders. Now, for my money, any kid that can throw 709 pitches in a game must have amazing control, so let’s assume Matsui gave up just 14 walks, threw six wild pitches and hit three batsmen.

Let’s also assume Matsui picked off two runners, because, you know, he tossed more than 700 pitches in that last outing. And, he’ll need a little luck, so he rolled eight twin killings and his catcher nailed six trying to steal.

Desperate Sotaku Infield Flies’ hitters popped up four squeeze-bunt attempts: in the 14th, 38th, and the 49th (twice). Also assume one kid tripped over the chalk line just 4 feet from home in the top of the 49th for the third out of the frame.

Obviously, the 49th inning will haunt the SHS Caught Lookings forever. This was supposed to be their year.

SHS had its chances, with runners in scoring position 16 times. They only needed to score one run in 49 innings, after all.

All of this is to say the SHS Runner Interferences hit about .147. This also means at least three kids went 0-for-18 for the game. After going 0-for-16, the right fielder faked a groin pull, went home, and took up cricket because it wouldn’t take up so much time.

Obviously, SHS’s version of the “Bad News Bears” character Kelly Leak went 15 for 18, but was tagged out after falling down near home in the bottom of the 49th. To be fair, he was winded because he’s up to two packs a day, which has escaped Morris Buttermaker’s attention. Buttermaker, you see, had passed out in the dugout some time during the game’s third day, between the 34th and 38th innings.

The victors, Chukyo High, only mustered 22 hits. But the skipper was so confident in Matsui’s control that he only had relievers up in the bullpen every sixth inning, for a show of depth.

When Buttermaker woke up, he quoted Groucho Marx. “I’ve had a wonderful time but this wasn’t it,” he said. Then he went home to prepare for the second game of this best-of-seven series.

Billy Johnson is the president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Wranglers and author of the novel “If I Die Tell Steve Martin I Found His Journal.”

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