COMPTON — After two jarring innings, the Arroyo Seco Saints found out that once the damage was done, the bell could not be unrung.
Actually, the ring was more like a ping, as the size of the aluminum bats wielded by Chinese Taipei took center stage as the hot topic of the Saints' 17-8 opening-round loss on Thursday in the 2012 Palomino League World Series at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton.
A rules violation detected only after the completion of the first two innings and a lingering dispute over the semantics of the rule book that still wasn't settled even after the game's conclusion combined to leave a bitter taste in the Saints' mouths, as they never recovered from the early 7-0 deficit and suffered their first loss in 15 games.
"It blows my mind, we scored [eight] runs, you should be able to win a baseball game with [eight] runs," said Arroyo Seco Coach Aaron Milam, whose team includes players from Crescenta Valley High, St. Francis and Glendale Community College. "[Chinese Taipei had] check swings that were just going forever."
Arroyo Seco, which trailed, 12-0, after three innings, could never rein in Chinese Taipei's offense, even as the Saints mounted a four-run rally of their own in the bottom of the third and scored three in the sixth before leaving the bases loaded. They will now play Puerto Rico at 4:30 p.m. today in a loser's bracket game of the double-elimination tournament.
The controversy came down to two aspects of the Pony Baseball rules; the requirement that the circumference of the bat head be no greater than 2 5/8 inches, which all parties seemed to be in agreement on, and the requirement of bats to meet Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) testing protocol, which was worded more ambiguously.
At the start of the third inning, the Saints lodged a protest that Chinese Taipei had used an illegal bat. Chinese Taipei was found to be in possession of three bats that were greater than 2 5/8 inches in circumference, prompting the confiscation of the bats and the suspension of Chinese Taipei Coach Lee Kuo Chiang for the remainder of the contest, as well as for today's second-round game. But despite the vociferous protests of Milam, there was no undoing the seven-run deficit, as per Pony rules.
"We looked at [the bat] in the first inning and I said, what is that?" said Milam, who also coaches St. Francis High's baseball team. "Then in the second inning we told [catcher] Troy [Prasertsit] to look at the bat and he came back in the second inning and said it was an illegal bat.
"The issue there is they were not clear to begin with. The umpires thought the Pony officials would check it out, the Pony officials were telling the umpires, 'No, it's on you and the coaches to check it out.'"
The game resumed after a delay of approximately 10 minutes, but after Chia-Ching Lin singled to center field on the first pitch of the top of the third, Milam immediately raised another protest and that's when things really got contentious between the Saints coaching staff and Pony officials.
According to the Sports Science Laboratory at Washington State University, which conducts BBCOR testing for the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. and National High School Federation, a bat cannot exceed the standard of minus-3 when its length in inches is subtracted from its weight in ounces.
Chinese Taipei was using minus-5 bats, which Milam argued was also a violation of the rules, but Pony officials argued that the Saints were interpreting the rule incorrectly.
"We were talking too long there [about it] and they wanted to get the game going because they have opening ceremonies," Milam said. "Just get the game going, that's what they kept telling me."
The rule book on the Pony Baseball website states, "Effective Jan. 1, 2012, all minus (-) 3 bats must be BBCOR certified."
Milam was told by Pony officials that the aforementioned language did not prohibit the use of bats greater than minus-3, it simply mandates that any minus-3 bat in use be BBCOR rated.
However, later in the same article of the Pony rules, it states, "All non-wood bats shall meet the Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) testing protocol maintaining the length-to-weight difference of 0.50 limit regardless of length."
Milam was insistent that the latter statement should rule out any ambiguity about the former.
"We interpreted the bat rule as it is in our regulations, that's all I can say right now," said Director of Southern California Palomino Division Steve Lange, who also serves as the World Series director. "I'm not going to say any more about it. There's enough controversy about it that we will cover it and go over it with the teams and everything."
The game hit a low point for Arroyo Seco after Chinese Taipei packed on five more runs on six hits in the third inning, but the Saints did bounce back in the bottom half.
Crescenta Valley High graduate Elliot Surrey singled to right field to drive in Dominique Davis for the Saints' first run and St. Francis' Brandon Van Horn singled to plate Surrey two batters later.
First baseman Chris DeVito doubled to score Davis and St. Francis' David Olmedo-Barrera and make it 12-4, but the Saints stranded runners at first and third to end the inning.
Arroyo Seco finally retired Chinese Taipei in order in the fourth, but couldn't score in the fourth or fifth while Chinese Taipei tacked runs onto its lead with single tallies in the fifth and sixth.
Josh Clark and Davis singled back to back with one out in the sixth and both scored on an Olmedo-Barerra double to right field. DeVito picked up another RBI to make it 14-7, but Chinese Taipei again had the last laugh with another three-spot in the top of the seventh to quell any thought of a Saints comeback.
"I'm not excusing us, they hit the ball, we kicked a few balls," Milam said. "But it plays with a team mentally. They think they're at a competitive disadvantage to begin with and you lose focus from the game and that's really what we did."