'Beginning' of Game 5 offers intrigue
Three players could be switched out before first pitch is thrown
PHILADELPHIA -- The first batter will be a pinch-hitter, or even a pinch-hitter for a pinch-hitter. Three substitutions could be made before the first pitch is thrown. It's going to be that kind of night. A strange and unprecedented couple of days will culminate in an odd evening at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night when the Phillies and Rays hit the field for Game 5, Take 2.
Even those watching at home won't get the typical experience. Sen. Barack Obama's half-hour campaign advertisement will run on FOX from 8-8:30 p.m. ET, leaving the network with exactly seven minutes for "pregame" coverage. At the ballpark, fans will stand for the national anthem, accompanied perhaps by one or two festive flourishes, and then they'll get right back into the guts of a taut game for baseball's biggest prize.
Rays manager Joe Maddon, a savvy helmsman, will surely warm up not one but two pitchers before the first pitch is thrown -- Grant Balfour, who is the current pitcher for Tampa Bay in the 2-2 game, and a left-hander.
And Phils manager Charlie Manuel will immediately have a decision. He can use a left-handed hitter to pinch-hit, choosing from a list that includes National League Championship Series hero Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins and Greg Dobbs. But he'd do so knowing that Maddon would almost surely hook Balfour for whichever lefty he had warming. That is to say, not only would the scheduled batter (Cole Hamels) be removed before the first pitch, but so would the pitcher, Balfour.
Manuel could go with a less dangerous right-handed hitter -- So Taguchi, Eric Bruntlett or Chris Coste. That would avoid the lefty-lefty issue, but it's a less appetizing option for a couple of reasons. One, the righties are less imposing. Two, Manuel would hate to burn Bruntlett, his defensive replacement in the outfield, or Coste, his backup catcher, in the sixth.
The third option is to burn a lefty -- Jenkins, most likely -- in hopes of getting Maddon to go to a left-handed pitcher, then replace him with a right-hander. A matchup of Coste against a lefty is a very interesting one.
And how does Maddon counter that possibility? The best choice is probably by using David Price as his left-hander. Unlike a specialist such as Scott Eyre, Price is a starter. He has a full arsenal, and you wouldn't be afraid to have him face right-handers and switch-hitters. Bring in Price, or even perhaps J.P. Howell, and the Rays would likely stay with him at least through the third and fourth spots in the batting order, lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
For the seventh, the Phils are calling on Ryan Madson -- an aggressive move and quite possibly a very good one.
So settle in, at home or at the park. It's only 3 1/2 innings of baseball -- barring extra innings, of course -- but it's sure to be packed full with action, drama and decisions.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.