LLWS Opinion and Reflection: Not Really Double-Elimination; Matthijs’ ‘Pretty Good Stuff’

After California and Texas representatives each lost to Greenville North State in the Little League World Series, their managers expressed similar sentiments.

“We hope we see them again,” each manager said. “That’s why they call it a double-elimination tournament.”

California did not get its chance. Texas did and rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5 on Saturday and claim the U.S. championship. Each team had just one loss, but Texas advanced to play Japan on Sunday and got pummeled 12-2.

So it’s not a true double-elimination tournament.

The LLWS has changed formats twice since 2001. When Greenville Tar Heel participated in 1998, the eight-team field was divided into two four-team U.S. and international pools. Each team played each of the other three teams in its pool, and the two teams with the best records squared off.

Greenville defeated Michigan, fell to New Jersey, then slipped past California. New Jersey won all three of its games. Greenville then faced New Jersey with the winner advancing. New Jersey won.

The LLWS expanded to 16 teams in 2001 and divided regional champions into four four-team pools. That lasted until 2010, when the LLWS changed to a modified double-elimination format in an effort to make every game matter.

“One of the primary reasons for the change was to eliminate the third games in pool play which, because of potential tie-breaking possibilities, left a manager with two choices: lose the game and advance to the next round, or win the game (but give up too many runs) and be eliminated,” Little League International said on its website. “The outcome of every game in a double-elimination format has importance, with no tie-breakers needed.”

Little League changed to its modified double-elimination format in 2011. That year both undefeated teams lost in the U.S. and international championships and did not advance. Montana defeated California in the winners’ bracket finals, then California took the rematch. On the international side, Mexico defeated Japan then lost the rematch.

California went on to win the title.

The only other time a team with one loss did not advance was in 2016 when South Korea lost to Panama then took the rematch. New York defeated South Korea to win the LLWS title.
Little League said it uses the modified format because of scheduling travel for teams.

“The Little League Baseball World Series uses a modified double-elimination tournament format, where once the final teams are determined through a double-elimination process, those finalists compete in a single-elimination tournament,” Kevin Fountain, director of media relations, wrote in an email. “Communicated and discussed to all teams participating prior to the start of the tournament, this format allows the Little League Baseball tournament to proceed as scheduled and helps ensure that Little League International can provide and coordinate the travel of all 16 teams, both domestic and international, to and from the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa.”

That doesn’t really explain it. No games are scheduled on Friday before the U.S. and international championships on Saturday, so there is time to play an “if necessary” game. That would further tax the pitching staff of the winner but would produce a true double-elimination survivor.

What the LLWS should say is: “ESPN gives us millions of dollars to show every game of the tournament, so if it wants us to play in a cow pasture with tobacco sticks and taped-up balls, that’s what we’ll do. If a team has one loss and is eliminated, so be it.”

‘Pretty good stuff’

Texas manager Bud Maddux didn’t go out of his way to compliment Greenville’s Matthew Matthijs after one of the most dominating performances in LLWS history.

Matthijs faced 14 Texas batters and struck out 12, including the last 11 in a 2-1 Greenville victory on Wednesday.

In his slow Texas drawl, the veteran manager said. “He’s got pretty good stuff. He’s pretty good, but we’ve got some good ones, too.”

Sorry coach, Oreos have “pretty good stuff.” Matthijs was electric and overpowering in overwhelming Texas batters. The only baserunner came on a third-strike wild pitch. That just meant Matthijs got to add one more to his strikeout numbers.

Maddux said his batters should have changed their approach. The only approach that may have worked would have been finding a Texas uniform to fit some of the St. Louis Cardinal and Pittsburgh Pirate players that visited Lamade Stadium earlier in the week.

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