The situation: 0-0 game on the road, Carlos Ruiza on third base, one out
Due up: Pitcher, LHB/LF Juan Pierre
And after that:SHB/CF Shane Victorino, SHB/SS Jimmy Rollins, RHB/RF Hunter Pence, RHB/3B Ty Wigginton, LHB/1B Laynce Nix, RHB/C Carlos Ruiz, SHB/2B Freddy Galvis
On the bench: RHB Placido Polanco, RHB John Mayberry Jr., LHB Jim Thome, LHB Pete Orr, LHB Brian Schneider
On the mound: RHP Sergio Romo
Warming in the bullpen: LHP Javier Lopez, RHP Clay Hensley
Charlie Manuel's decision: Thome pinch-hits for pitcher
Bruce Bochy's counter: Lopez replaces Romo
That's the set-up. You are Charlie Manuel.
What do you do?
The near unanimous opinion amongst emailers and Twitterers is that you call Thome back to the dug-out and replace him with Placido Polanco. I am also of that opinion. Manuel is the king of running a guy out there until he finally has success. And while it drives a lot of people crazy, I usually agree with that strategy. So put Polanco out there and take your chances on the contact-hitter instead of the guy who struck out 30 times in 75 at-bats against lefties last season. It isn't like Thome was tearing it up this season: he was 1-for-10 with a walk and five strikeouts. Manuel justified the decision to leave him in by noting that Thome had put the ball into play in eight of 11 bats against Lopez. What he did not say was that Polanco had put the ball into play in seven of his seven career at-bats against Lopez.
Manuel told reporters last night that he thought about hitting John Mayberry Jr. instead of Thome, which to me should be almost as disconcerting as his leaving Thome in. Because it means he had some thought about leaving Juan Pierre in to face Lopez.
You essentially have two options there: replace Thome with Polanco, or leave Thome in to face Lopez.
You have to use Mayberry to pinch-hit for Pierre. You just do. Sure, you want Mayberry's arm, glove and range in left field in a tight game. But you also want his bat in there against a lefty, regardless of how bad he has struggled this season.
In that vein, let's get something straight: Pierre has excellent splits against left-handed pitching. But those splits are something of a mirage.
Consider this: last season 21 of his 49 hits against lefties were infield hits. Many of those were bunts. With two out and the go-ahead run on third, a bunt ain't gonna do you no good. With Carlos Ruiz on third, chances are an infield hit ain't gonna do you no good either.
Pierre isn't going to be bunting. And you don't need an infield hit. So the lefty splits don't help you so much.
Mayberry for Pierre is clearly the right call.
Which brings us back to Polanco/Thome with one out. If you are confident Polanco can score the run, then hitting him there is a no-brainer. Get the run, put your closer in for the bottom of the 11th, and move on to San Diego. Again, that's what my brain and my gut said to do at the time.
But let's make sure we don't lose sight of the devil on our way to burn the witch.
Because if Polanco does not score the run, which is a distinct possibility given his recent performance and the presence of the lead-footed Ruiz on third base, then you are left with a scoreless tie and the pitcher now due up fourth in the top of the 12th, assuming you double switched Ty Wigginton out of the game and put Polanco at third. Meaning that if the go-ahead run reaches base, you will be left with Orr or Schneider to pinch-hit and drive him in (Mayberry, Thome and Polanco are already used).
In hindsight, the game never got to the 12th, and Thome struck out, and Mayberry grounded out. So clearly the Phillies would have been better off taking their chances with Polanco.
But just because Manuel may have mis-calculated doesn't mean we can ignore the fact that he was working with an abacus instead of a TI-81. This was not a case of foresaking a good option in favor of a lesser one. This was less-than-ideal versus lesser-than-ideal, Bryzgalov versus Bobrovsky, Maroon 5 versus Train.
All of this is stuff we have written about since the early days of the offseason. The Phillies do not have a balanced bench. Their bench players are not versatile. The bench player whose tools you acquired for just the sort of situation that you faced in the top of the 11th was unavailable because he has been starting in left field. Charlie Manuel's list of options looks like it would have been subopenaed by the the House Unamerican Activities Committee: a bunch of lefties weak on defense.
Keep in mind you have a slow runner in Ruiz at third. So while Polanco is a better bet to put the ball into play, a groundout or shallow fly ball might not do you much good. It might also set up a play at the plate where your invaluable starting catcher is forced to sacrifice his body for the run. Or, worse, the out.
It also leaves you with one less pinch-hitter, since Thome would be burned without taking a plate appearance.
At the same time, we've spent the last couple of days detailing Polanco's struggles. He hasn't been driving the ball. With Ruiz on third, chances are you are going to need a ball to get out of the infield or reach medium-depth outfield to score the run.
And again, if Polanco and Mayberry do not score the runner, then you have the pitcher's spot due up fourth the next inning. Which means there is a good chance you have Pete Orr or Brian Schneider looking to drive in the go-ahead run.
Polanco may have been the right call given the circumstances. But you can't ignore the circumstances.