Bottom of the ninth inning. Two out. The lightning-fast Rafael Furcal on third base. The aged Julio Franco on first. Down by two runs. Two men left on the bench: Wes Helms, who’ll be pinch-hitting if pitcher John Smoltz comes up later in the inning, and Steve Torrealba, your .059(!)-hitting third-string catcher.
You’ve got to stay out of the double play because you want to get to Chipper Jones, who hits Robb Nen as well as anybody. You have no choice but to save Helms. And Julio Franco isn’t fast anymore, but he’s always faster than your third-string catcher.
What do you do?
You call down to the bullpen, where Greg Maddux is warming up, and have him run for Franco, that’s what you do.
Insanity? Probably. But here’s how I see it.
Maddux can still run the bases. He can almost certainly run the bases better than Franco. You have to get Chipper Jones to the plate at any cost. If Jones hits a homer, the game’s through, so the rest is a non-issue. If Jones doesn’t hit a homer and Wes Helms has to hit for Smoltz and the Braves end up only tying the game, no problem. Helms is a first baseman. Helms stays in to play first. Maddux stays in the game to pitch. The result is just an unconventional double switch.
And Maddux is exactly who you want pitching in extra innings in a do-or-die game. Normally a starter, Maddux can give you innings. And Maddux could potentially contribute with his bat.
But it’s all a non-issue now. The Giants closed down the Braves with Jones in the on-deck circle. The Giants are coming to St. Louis.
So it’s Angels-Twins in the AL, Giants-Cardinals in the NL. The usual suspects of October are going to be watching from their living rooms.
It’s a very different October.