The finish of this year's epic Japan Series was baseball at its best. We had an underdog winning on the road and the longest game in Series history.
History, of course, is one of baseball's selling points. People love to say it's the same game their great-grandfathers played. In a sense, this is correct. Three strikes has been an out since 1888, and four balls have been a walk since 1889.
Yet while the rules have fossilized, the game is in a state of constant flux. The game now is vastly different from the one played here 60 years ago, when home runs were scarce, averages were low and games were fast.
With most hitters capable of putting a mistake into the seats, pitchers have to work more carefully than they used to. Higher averages mean more runners on base and longer games.
In terms of innings, Japan's longest game came on May 24, 1942 when Nagoya and Taiyo played to a 28-inning, 4-4 tie in 3 hours 47 minutes. In contrast, 57 nine-inning games during the 2010 regular season ran longer than that.
Still, history is history, and it was made in Nagoya on Saturday, when the Chiba Lotte Marines and Chunichi Dragons played a Series game lasting 5 hours 43 minutes. Not only was it the longest Series game ever, but it was also the longest ever played by a Pacific League team.
This beauty might have gone on and on and on, but it was halted at 15 innings. What might have become the longest pro game ever ended in a tie. The tie created the possibility of a Game 8 on Monday or even a Game 9 (had the teams tied Sunday and the Dragons won Game 8), which struck a chord with Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai.
"I expect these extra-inning ties will disappear eventually," Ochiai said just after midnight in his postgame press conference. "It's kind of like I said at the manager's meeting [before the Series]. The way things are set up now, we could tie the first seven games and end up having to play 14."
Ochiai's prediction about future changes is probably on the money, since the last tie also saw a new format the following season.
In 1986, there was no limit to the number of extra innings, but none could start 4-1/2 hours after the start of play.
That rule died after Game 1 in 1986 was declared a tie at 5:32 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon with the Seibu Lions and Hiroshima Carp tied 2-2. Seibu lost the next three games, but clinched in the only Series Game 8 ever played.
From 1987, Series games could go 18 innings before being declared a tie. When night games were introduced from 1994, the inning limit was reduced to 15.
That system worked until Saturday.
We'll never now how great Game 6 could have been, simply because the rules limited its unique potential.
This year's games showed the kind of superb product Nippon Professional Baseball has on its hands. Unfortunately, the Series is not exactly a superb brand.
If it were, all the games would have been nationally televised, as they usually are. Unfortunately, Games 1, 2 and 5 this year were left to satellite, cable and local TV.
Although NPB has final approval of Series broadcasters, teams negotiate the rights to their own home games.
Chunichi spokesman Yasuyuki Kondo told The Hot Corner on Tuesday that the Dragons had a prior agreement with TBS to air Games 1 and 2. Unfortunately, TBS' committment to the Women's Volleyball World Championship messed things up.
"TBS wanted to broadcast our games, but only if we played day games," said Kondo, who admitted day games were not an option. "Fujii TV [which aired Games 6 and 7] became interested, but those negotiations got started too late."
After the Series ended on Sunday, NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato anticipated some discussion about the way broadcasts are arranged.
"In the following days, I expect to exchange various opinions [with the 12 teams]," he told reporters.
This year's tie will likely lead to changes in the way Series games are finished.
Hopefully, the painful lesson of NPB's marquee product being unavailable to many of its customers will also bring improvements in time for a 2011 upgrade.