In late March, West Ranch baseball had mounted an 11-0 lead over Golden Valley by the fifth inning. But the Grizzlies, who weren’t ready to roll over, struck back and scored eight runs from the bottom of the fifth inning to the seventh inning, creating a drastically different outcome than what most expected.
If Foothill League baseball had a mercy rule, that comeback might never have happened.
“The game’s not over until the game’s over,” said Wildcats coach Casey Burrill. “Our team certainly experienced that. I thought it was a good experience for Golden Valley, too. They got a bunch of runs to show they could be a part of the game and compete in the Foothill League and I thought it was a great experience for both teams to have a nice, close game at the end.”
From a spectator’s perspective, a lack of mercy rule, which usually ends a game if a team is up by 10 runs or more by the fifth inning, can make a game seem long and degrading to the players on the field.
In reality, it couldn’t be more opposite.
Coaches across the Foothill League embrace high-scoring games and use them as an opportunity to give athletes playing time that they might not otherwise receive. It’s a good feeling for the players, too, to see their teammates get in the game.
“When we get to see them get the chance to do something, nobody wants it for them more than we do,” said Valencia starting third baseman Davis Cop. “We want to see them do well because we know they want us to do well. It shows our camaraderie. To see those guys do well, it’s one of the most fun things we’ve had the opportunity to see this year.”
Valencia beat Hart 10-0 on the same day that Golden Valley had its comeback against West Ranch. Plenty of Valencia and Hart players had the chance to get into the lineup. Judah Silverman, a junior, also had an opportunity to pitch for the Indians.
“He went out and got himself a zero,” Ozella said. “What does it do? It only boosts up his confidence so that the next time he gets the chance to pitch he’s going to get better. It’s a situation where he got an opportunity to pitch and the game was a little out of hand, but from that standpoint we’re getting a positive out of it.”
The league’s re-entry rule eases the decision process of taking out starters. All nine starters (or 10 if a team has a designated hitter) can be subbed out, but coaches have the option of re-inserting them in the game once if they choose.
Playing without a mercy rule makes the game more fair for pitching staffs as well. If a game is cut short, it can be an advantage for teams by giving them the opportunity to rest arms and keep pitchers fresh.
“If we’re going to be consistent in league, then everybody plays everyone three times and everyone has to pitch for 21 innings, which makes it equal,” Valencia coach Mike Killinger said.
“Then they have fresher pitchers or more well-rested pitchers for the next week or even possibly during that same week with all these rain makeups. So trying to be as equal as possible in league is the most fair way to approach these things.”
Junior varsity and freshman Foothill League teams adhere to a mercy rule as well as a time limit, which limits games to no longer than 2 1/2 hours.
In article 150, section 1516, the CIF-Southern Section bylaws state that “In all non-varsity contests, no new inning will start after two and one-half hours have elapsed from the start of a regulation game (five innings or four and one‐half innings with the host team ahead in the score).”
Cop recalls playing for the Vikings’ JV team and feeling limited by the rules in a spring break game against West Ranch.
“At the beginning of the game, it was an absolute blowout,” he said. “They were up double-digits and we ran into the end where we started to come back and when things started to fall in place, we were two hours, 15 minutes, so no new inning.
“It’s disheartening. You come all the way back and in 15 minutes this game is over no matter how close you make it. It’s just a bummer. It killed everything you had in the dugout. Knowing this can all be taken away from us, it’s just tough. It’s unfortunate, but I guess it’s part of those lower level games.”
Whether a team is up by 10 runs or down by 10 runs, the competition level is high in the Foothill League. And just like with West Ranch and Golden Valley, there is always an opportunity for a comeback to spice up the game.
“It’s a pretty darn competitive league and if we’re on the positive side, we’re not trying to run the score up, we’re trying to be respectful … and I’ve seen weird things happen in the game of baseball,” Ozella said. “All the sudden somebody puts up a six, all the sudden it gets turned around the wrong way. The game really is never over. Hopefully, you compete until the last out.”