Nine runs were scored in the 12th inning of yesterday's Olympic baseball game between China and Chinese Taipei, with China winning in dramatic -- and we do mean dramatic -- fashion.
With one out and the bases loaded, China drew a walk to make it 7-5 as the Taiwanese coach, Hung Yi-chung, rested his head on the dugout railing in disbelief. The next batter, Hou Fenglian, went down 0-2 before slapping a single past the first baseman. As the tying run rounded third, the unthinkable happened: Taipei's second baseman mishandled the relay throw, first trying catch it in front of his body, then for some reason moving his glove to his backside as if trying to snag a screwball. The ball bounced away -- even watching multiple replays, we're not sure what happened -- and the runner on first raced around to score without a throw. While China had three errors on the day, this was Taipei's first -- and it cost them the game.
Hou threw his arms up and rushed to join a mob of Chinese players dancing at the plate. No one could quite believe it. The crowd, as you can expect, went wild -- they didn't know what happened either, but the scoreboard showed 8-7 and the home team was jumping up and down on the field. It was time to celebrate.
This story has gotten little to no play here in Beijing, where the mainlanders truly don't care about baseball. In Taiwan, on the other hand, emotions went from unfettered joy to unspeakable disappointment in a matter of minutes as people on the streets watched their team choke away a four-run lead in the bottom of the 12th against Olympic newcomers. Check out these two AP photos, taken from Taiwan before and after:
China hasn't been playing baseball for very long, and it doesn't look like it'll be playing much longer once these Games are over, since the sport is getting removed from the Olympic program. This victory -- the first for the China Olympic baseball team -- is just a footnote in the country's quest to overtake the U.S. in the total gold medal count. For the Taiwanese, on the other hand...
That was from a Reuters story. No word on whether the baseball chief resigned, but this loss has completely shaken the island. This is a place that literally shuts down when Chien-Ming Wang pitches, and here they are, losing to their archnemesis.
The game was so important that Taiwan's baseball chief had offered to resign if his team, officially named "Chinese Taipei" because of political sensitivities with China, lost. Other heads could roll as well, he said ahead of the Olympics.
"It's going to be a big shock, because never in history has Taiwan's team lost to mainland China in international play," said Chao Chien-min, a political science professor at National Chengchi University.
"China doesn't like baseball," Chao said. "For a long time we thought we had an advantage."
Very few news articles mentions what actually happened in the game -- not surprising since they probably weren't there, not Reuters (above) and not the Chicago Tribune (actually, they probably were, but still no game details) -- and that's really too bad. You can talk the political ramifications of a China vs. Chinese Taipei matchup all you want, but what it comes down to is this: two teams played a hell of a baseball game, and those who saw it can consider themselves lucky.
A longer video below. In the postgame analysis, one of the studio guys says, "I think in today's game, at the most crucial moment, Chinese Taipei... perhaps the turn of events really rattled them mentally, and that took them from heaven to earth, and they didn't know what to do."