Baseball isn’t the first sport the mind associates with being a game of inches.
No matter what metric you use, those small increments of distance made the world of difference Thursday night.
Ignited by an infield single off the bat of Sun Yi Lei, the sleeping giant that is Chinese Taipei awoke to assert its Pony League World Series dominance for its 10th championship, a convincing 9-1 win over Bay County, Mich., in the title game at Lew Hays Pony Field.
“We have prepared for this game for four or five months,” said Chinese Taipei coach Chen Yi Sung. “We have seen the results to achieve this. It’s about living up to history.”
All 10 titles for Chinese Taipei have came since 1994. The Asia-Pacific Zone champion has won five of the last seven World Series, including four in the last five years by teams representing Chinese Taipei.
“It’s just their discipline. They have very discipline teams,” said Bay County coach Jim Butts. “Somebody said to me, ‘They’re not going to beat themselves, you’re going to have to beat them.’ That’s very true. You have to play a very good game to beat them. They just do everything right.”
The victory came from what looked to be a harmless roller from Sun that nubbed off the end of his bat in fair territory, rolled foul and then back into the field of play. Slow out of the box, Sun was called safe when Bay County first baseman Colton Hopp pulled his foot off the bag.
“It was just an unlucky call, I think,” said Butts. “Our first baseman thought his foot was on the base. The ump had a pretty good view of it so I can’t really argue. It turned everything around.”
Not only did the fourth-inning infield single represent the first hit for either team, it sparked a chain reaction for Chinese Taipei. The Asia-Pacific zone champion followed the close call by sending seven more batters to the plate, finishing the inning with four hits and breaking open what was a scoreless game. Sun scored on a shallow sacrifice fly from Yang Yu Cheng, which forced Bay County center fielder Landon Sella to slide to secure the baseball and prevented a throw. Hsu Shao Yu, the next batter, singled up the middle and past the glove of shortstop Cam Shooltz to score a pair of runs and push the lead to 3-0.
Bad went to worse for Bay County in the top of the fifth.
A well-placed bunt by Yang led to a throwing error to a vacated first base. As the baseball rolled around near the Bay County bullpen in foul territory down the right-field line, Sun and Yang Tzu Chun raced around to give Chinese Taipei a 5-0 lead. Yang Yu Cheng slid home safely after the bunt but was called out on interference after a wild throw to the plate made contact with a teammate who had exited the dugout.
Making its first trip in 13 appearances to a World Series championship, Bay County kept the game close early behind the pitching of starter Jace Giffel, the hero who sent it to the title game with a tiebreaking home run in the sixth inning to beat Simi Valley, Calif., 2-1. Giffel kept Chinese Taipei guessing in the first three innings by not allowing a hit or a run. Chinese Taipei had scored 28 runs and stolen 26 bases in its three games prior to Thursday night.
That was until things quickly plummeted south in the fourth.
Sun had a commanding performance on the mound. Taking control from the start, Sun threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing only one run on four hits – two in the seventh inning – and striking out six.
“His pitches had different speeds and great control,” Chen said. “That led us to the win.”
Chinese Taipei put the game further out of reach with three additional runs on a double steal, wild pitch and bases-loaded walk to lead 9-0 in the seventh inning. Both three-run innings – the fourth and seventh – ended with Chinese Taipei leaving the bases loaded.
Bay County’s lone run scored on a balk in the bottom of the seventh.
“(Sun) kept us guessing,” Butts said. “He kept us off balance, threw at several different speeds. We struggled against him.”