Mexico is Angry, Protesting Elimination from World Baseball Classic on Confusing Tiebreaker

Four years ago, Mexico and Canada got into a 9th inning brawl brought on by the tiebreaker then in place, which saw Canada bunt with a 6-run lead in order to extend the lead for tiebreaker purposes.

That, in turn, led to a revision of the tiebreaker rules for this tournament. Mexico again finds itself at the center of a tiebreaker storm after beating Venezuela 11-9 last night, but being eliminated by a calculation. Mexico’s win created a three-way tie between Italy, Mexico, and Venezuela at 1-2 in Group D. Only two teams will play in a tiebreaker game to advance as the 2nd place team from the group, and after much confusion, it is Italy and Venezuela who will play.

Here’s the tiebreaker in question:

• Step 1: The tied Teams shall be ranked in the standings for that Round according to fewest runs allowed divided by the number of innings (including partial innings) played in defense in the games in that Round between the Teams tied.

Here’s where the source of the controversy arises. In the game against Italy, Mexico blew a 4-run lead in the bottom of the 9th, surrendering 5 runs without recording an out. Venezuela meanwhile went to extra innings in the 11-10 win over Italy Saturday. Thus, you have the following runs allowed: Italy (20), Venezuela (21), Mexico (19). Italy’s runs allowed per inning is 1.05. Venezuela’s is 1.11.

And Mexico’s is at 1.12 if they get no credit for a partial inning in that bottom of the 9th when they gave up 5 runs, and it would be 1.06 if that was counted as an inning.

So, when is an inning not an inning? In baseball, where in terms of tracking pitching numbers, outs count toward partial innings, and earned run average is determined by outs recorded.

There can be no doubt that in real life, Mexico played a 9th inning in that game, which cost them dearly. The language used is also ambiguous, and could lead to the confusion. The “divided by the number of innings (including partial innings) played in defense” phrasing suggests that it may not be outs recorded but playing in the field in defense that matters. Mexico took the field and presumably tried to play defense before surrendering 5 runs.

Even after the game was concluded, there was confusion over who should advance.

Mexico has filed a protest about the tiebreaker decision. Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has said he would reconsider participating in the future because of this. He also tweeted out that he was told they needed a two-run victory to advance.

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