Americans might not take the World Baseball Classic all that seriously, but the Americans in charge of the tournament are taking it very, very seriously.
To the detriment of the tournament, based on a decision made early Monday morning. Mexico got jobbed, for no good reason.
The WBC arrives in San Diego on Tuesday, with four teams competing for two spots in next week’s championship round at Dodger Stadium. The other two tickets to the final round will be won in Tokyo, with Japan, Israel, Cuba and the Netherlands competing there this week.
By Sunday afternoon, the United States, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico had clinched three of the four slots in San Diego. On Sunday night, Mexico forced a three-way tie for the last slot.
If this were a three-way tie for a postseason spot in Major League Baseball, the tie would be broken on the field. In the WBC, with a tight international travel schedule and restrictive pitch counts, two days and two games worth of tiebreakers are impractical.
There is one tiebreaker game, with two teams in and one left out. As Sunday night turned into Monday morning, Mexico found out it would be the team left out, and Italy and Venezuela would play the tiebreaker.
The relevant rule: the team that gives up the most runs per inning in head-to-head play is eliminated. Mexico had given up 1.12 runs per inning, Venezuela 1.11, Italy 1.05.
We all had. On the television network run by MLB, and on the website run by MLB, each promoting the tournament run by MLB, the message was the same: If Mexico wins by two runs, Mexico advances.
Mexico won by two.
But wait, this postgame interpretation just in from the rules committee: That five-run inning earlier in the week, in which Italy walked off? Mexico did not get an out, so that did not count as an inning. The five runs still counted.
If it would have counted as an inning, Mexico would have advanced. The rule specifies that partial innings count.
“The rule doesn’t specify outs,” Mexico Manager Edgar Gonzalez told reporters after the game. “It specifies partial innings. And if you go to a judge, this is a partial inning.”
Mexico has not sued, as far as we know. The Mexicans filed a protest, and lost.
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the brother of the Mexican manager, on Monday tweeted a picture of a dictionary definition of “partial,” then directed another tweet to MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre: “Looks like some rules makers cannot go by their own rules.”
If the tournament were run in the manner of boxing, there would be no question that Mexico would have advanced. The best interests of the WBC demanded it, and the rules would have been interpreted accordingly.
Sell tickets to an Italy-Venezuela tiebreaker game in Mexico, rather than include Mexico in the game? Good luck with that.
Keep hope alive that Mexico could play in San Diego, rather than Italy or Venezuela? Let the WBC tie another hand behind its back in trying to popularize the tournament.
It is not as if Mexico would have advanced without winning a game. It is not as if Mexico is solely a gate attraction rather than a decent baseball team.
There would have been nothing outrageous about making sure Mexico played Monday. Mexico deserved it, and so did the WBC.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin