Bases empty, two outs, a 3-1 game, #8 hitter up. Nothing comes down to this.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Giants Win to Avoid Bizarre Three-Way Game

The 2010 season of Major League Baseball wrapped up yesterday in dramatic fashion. The NL West and Wildcard crowns came down to the last day, with the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres fighting for the two spots.

Early in the day, Atlanta put themselves in a good position by holding off the Phillies 8-7. That set up the battle of the Sans in the afternoon. A San Francisco win meant San Francisco would advance, leaving the Padres, one of the biggest surprises of 2010, a game short of the playoffs.

A Padres win, on the other hand, would lead to one of the most fascinating scenarios in baseball history: a three-way tie for two playoff spots. This result would invoke a rarely-used, little-known rule from the depths of baseball's tome of laws: the three-way game, known officially as the "Ti3br3ak3r".

Though San Francisco did in fact win Sunday's contest, allowing the Giants and Braves to advance to the playoffs while forcing the Padres to an earlier-than-expected golf season, the Ti3br3ak3r has been on people's lips every since it became clear that it might happen. However, being so rarely used, the average fan knows very little about this phenomenon. Bottom of the Fourth has dug into baseball's intricate maze of rules and regulations and today presents what can only be described as an educational feature, a profile of the mysterious Ti3br3ak3r.


The Ti3br3ak3r's roots go back to 1948 and the American League pennant race. It was a very close race that is famous for featuring the first ever one-game playoff in the American League, between the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox. What is often forgotten is that the New York Yankees were very much in that race, ending the season only two games back. Sensing the possibility of a three-way tie, baseball scrambled to implement a fail-safe in case this situation occurred.

The original Threesome, as it was called then, was to be a simple rotation on a regular field. Team A would pitch to team B, who would pitch to team C, who would pitch to team A. The standard nine innings would be played, with a top, middle and bottom. The team with the most runs won, and if two or all three teams were tied after nine innings, extra innings would proceed normally. In the case of a two-way tie, the non-tied team would drop out after nine innings.

However, the game was never played in this incarnation, and has been modified many times as the game changed. The Ti3br3ak3r is now much more complicated, and features a modified field, among other strange alterations.

The basic premise of the current Ti3br3ak3r stems from its modified field, as shown in the diagram below.

A diagram of the modified field used for the Ti3br3ak3r

In this setup, team A patrols the field while teams B and C bat simultaneously from opposite diamonds. The pitching team uses two pitchers, catchers, and sets of infielders, because of the two infields. The average major league team generally doesn't carry two complete infields, but recall that the Ti3br3ak3r would only take place as a September tiebreaker, when rosters have been expanded.

The defending team may only use three outfielders - a right/left fielder, a left/right fielder, and a center fielder - who must pay attention to both batters simultaneously. It's entirely possible that an outfielder would have two balls hit in their direction at the same time, and in the extremely rare circumstance, might even be able to make a Doublecatch. If an umpire judges the two balls to have been caught in the same instant by the same fielder, the defending team is awarded two extra outs (one per offensive side) that they may apply at any point later in the game.

It should be noted that home runs would become rarer in the Ti3br3ak3r, because the home run fence only exists along the flat sides connecting the two fields, requiring hitters to pull the ball at exactly the right angle, or give the ball a large amount of spin, just to hit one over the fence. However, triples and inside-the-park home runs would be much more common given the possibility of a ball rolling all the way to the opposite infield.

In such a case, if a batter hits a fly ball over the outfielders' heads, it may be tempting for the opposite infielders to catch the ball. However, this is strictly prohibited - the outfielders are the only defenders allowed to participate in both sides of the game. Any contact by an infielder with the wrong ball results in a two-base error. This can be particularly confusing in the case when both balls end up in play in the same infield, forcing fielders to pay close attention to which ball is which.

The potential for complicated strategical decisions exists in the Ti3br3ak3r, especially if it took place in the National League. The "Double Double Switch" could occur if a manager simultaneously replaced both his pitchers, and at the same time modified his extended 15-man batting order by replacing two fielders, not necessarily from opposite infields, with players off the bench. Because of the possible complexity of this type of situation, the Ti3br3ak3r calls for a special lineup-only umpire, to be seated at a desk in the exact middle of center field between the two diamonds. The center fielder must be acutely aware of this hazard in order to avoid injury when going back on a fly ball.

However, this isn't the only obstacle the outfielders must face. Because of the lack of a home run fence, the rulebook calls for bullpen pitchers to "just hang out" somewhere in the outfield. When it comes time to warm up, this must also be done at a spot of their choosing in the outfield.


Of course, the question naturally arises: where would such a game be played, given that no major league ballparks are equipped for an expanded layout such as this? As it turns out, one Double Stadium already exists: in Las Vegas. Sin City has been trying to get a professional sports team for years, and as a show of faith to MLB in hopes of returned goodwill, built this insurance-policy stadium more than 15 years ago. When not in use for the Ti3br3ak3r (as it never has been), the "Las Vegas Bipark" doubles as the city's primary poker chip storage facility, and recent estimates put the stadium at 80% full with stacks of the small disks, meaning any Ti3br3ak3r would require a tremendous amount of work on the part of the stadium crew. Luckily, they've survived another year without having to deal with this problem.

The Ti3br3ak3r may have found inspiration in 4-way chess

The Ti3br3ak3r follows in the footsteps of other modified versions of games, such as four-player chess, 3-D hockey (in which a gravitationally modified cube allows players to skate on the inside of each face), and Duelling Darts. Here's hoping that one day we'll actually see the game played.

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