Baseball, am I right? The cause of yesterday's brawl between Mexico and Canada is being laid at the feet of the tournament's tie-breaking procedure, specifically run differential. Because of the rules, as Canada manager Ernie Whitt said, the game is always played as though it's 0-0. So when Canada was bunting with a 9-3 lead, it wasn't to run up the score or shame Mexico, it was to protect against any kind of backdoor elimination by way of a losing tiebreaker. Which is a fairly believable prospect since only the top two teams from each pool advance and Italy had previously thumped Canada 14-4. Heading into today's 4 p.m. game both Canada and the United States are at 1-1 and the winner will advance along with Italy (2-1), but things could have gotten really dicey if the United States had lost to Italy last night. There could have been a three-way tie for the last spot in Pool D, with all teams at 1-2 if the U.S. were to beat Canada.
The rules for breaking a tie are somewhat confusing—you know it's confusing when it's given a name in scare quotes: "Team Quality Balance"—but they are at least written down. From the WBC's explanation for determining a winner and a runner up in a pool where three teams are tied for the highest percentage comes the definition of Team Quality Balance (TQB):
Teams shall be ranked in order of TQB (i.e., the sum of runs scored divided by the number of innings played on offense, minus the number of runs allowed, divided by the number of innings played on defense (RS/IPO)-(RA/IPD)=TQB)). For purposes of determining TQB only the scores from the games between the tied teams are to be used in the calculation.
Now that's a lot of math for a traditionally anti-math sport but one thing is clear: scoring as many runs as possible while not giving up as many is good. Crazy written rules of baseball.
It's never quite that easy, is it? The unwritten rules where baseball teams are supposed to play with dignity and not show up the other team by failing to play the game right way always muddle things. From the manager who ran afoul of them while playing to the letter of the law:
"There's got to be another method other than running up the score on the opposing team,'' Whitt said. "No one likes that. That's not the way baseball's supposed to be played.''
Pitcher Arnold Leon's misguided anger was backed up with some more misguided anger.
Leon was livid that catcher Chris Robinson led off the ninth with a bunt single, infuriating the entire team, which thought Canada was running up the score. "It's not professional,'' Mexico reliever Oliver Perez said. "I think everybody gets mad.''
Virtually everyone involved in the brawl has attributed it to some kind of lack of respect for the other team that "normally" doesn't play well in Baseball. Even though they all know these are the rules. Quoting Mexico's manager Rick Renteria: "some of these things we do not consider them normal or correct." Following the rules. Literally. The rules of the game that both these teams just played are actually officially codified somewhere (not in some novelty item) and that is in direct contravention to some abstraction of honor.
Baseball might be the only endeavor on the planet where the unwritten supersedes the written. Personally, I think a more rational excuse for this whole thing would be if Satan set up shop in Alfredo Aceves's eyes.