Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Pony League World Championship

Holly Tonini/Observer-Reporter

Tien Tzu-Chieh pitched Chinese Taipei to the Pony League World Series title with a strong performance against Long Beach at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington Park. Pitch counts were a hot topic at the series.

Another Pony League World Series has come and gone in Washington and this one, won by Chinese Taipei, 3-1, over Long Beach, Calif., in the well-played championship game Wednesday night at Lew Hays Pony Field, will be remembered for many things.

For instance, rain.

Hard, driving, soaking rain on multiple days of the series. The kind of rain that only ducks could love.

Opening night was a washout, as were two games Monday. If there were unsung heroes at the world series it was the grounds crew directed by Mark Murphy and his cast of hard-working volunteers. It wasn’t the fault of Murphy’s crew that games were postponed. They did the impossible by removing what could be best described as small lakes of water off the infield and making the field playable in about four hours. And they did it twice, without the benefit of a tarp to cover the entire infield from the rain.

The series also could be remembered for five-inning games.

Because of the Monday rainouts, six games had to be played Tuesday to get the series back on schedule. The tournament committee made the last-resort decision to shorten all games that day to five innings. Nobody was happy about playing shorter games but everybody understood the situation. Heck, the best inning of the entire tournament was the fifth – and last – of Chinese Taipei’s 5-3 win Tuesday over a very good hitting team from Yaguate, Domincan Republic. If nothing else, it might have been the most exciting fifth inning in world series history.

The series also could be remembered for slick television and online production. The games and the playing field never looked better on a television screen or monitor. We especially liked the overhead view of the ballpark, a shot taken from a camera drone that flew over Washington Park.

The disappointing aspect for local fans was the opening-night rainout caused a change in the original schedule and the Washington County team’s first game was bumped out of the TV spot Saturday in favor of a rescheduled game between Youngstown, Ohio and Vienna, Austria.

The rain also fell on the wrong days, so only two games were televised on AT&T Sports Net instead of the planned five telecasts.

A highlight of the series was Chinese Taipei’s Wu Sin Jie throwing the first perfect game by one pitcher in world series history – albeit in a five-inning game – when he stymied Youngtown, 4-0. Wu needed only 57 pitches to breeze through the five innings.

One unexpected on-field issue the series can be remembered for was pitching changes. Lots of them. Seventy-nine pitching changes in all. In 17 games.

It was the Pitching Change World Series.

This was the byproduct of PONY Baseball’s new pitch-count rules. Among the guidelines is players who throw 20 pitches or fewer are eligible to pitch on consecutive days. A pitcher who throws 21-35 pitches is required to have one day of rest between outings. Each pitcher is limited to 95 pitches per day.

The idea behind implementing the pitch-count limits instead of using the old innings limitations was sound. PONY doesn’t want a repeat of 1998, when Justin Gregula pitched Washington to the championship game. Gregula threw 277 pitches in what was then an eight-day world series. In a more recent series, a pitcher on the winning team threw 20 of his team’s 26 innings.

The problem with the pitch-count rule was that too many teams wanted to circumvent it and attempted to keep their pitchers under 20 pitches to keep them eligible to pitch the next day. The Bronx, N.Y., team, for example, used nine pitchers in its win over Washington County. Only two of the Bronx pitchers threw more than 30 pitches. There were 10 pitching changes in the game, which lasted more than 3½ hours. Six other games had at least six pitching changes. All the pitching changes made some games drag on far too long.

PONY Baseball would be wise to consider altering the pitch limits for postseason play, but as two old baseball guys were overheard saying one day at the park, “If you throw strikes, then pitch counts don’t come into play.”

Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at dugan@observer-reporter.com.

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