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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz unable to make key play at first

Red Sox bench Mike Napoli to keep Ortiz in the lineup, and St. Louis wins in the ninth.

October 26, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • St. Louis' Allen Craig gets tangled with Boston's Will Middlebrooks during the ninth inning of Game 3 of the World Series. Middlebrooks was called for obstruction on the play and Craig went in to score the game-winning run.
St. Louis' Allen Craig gets tangled with Boston's Will Middlebrooks… (David J. Phillip / Associated…)

ST. LOUIS — The debate over whether baseball should make both leagues play under the same rules is alive and well. Usually, it's good fodder for the bar, and for talk shows. One guy likes the designated hitter, the other does not, and the two agree to disagree.

It's good fodder for the World Series too, the breathless questions about which bench player on the National League team can be trusted with a few extra at-bats in the American League park, and which bat the AL team might have to omit from its lineup in the NL park.

Usually, it's much ado about nothing. On Saturday, though, the loss of the DH confounded the Boston Red Sox in their 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

PHOTOS: Cardinals defeat Red Sox, 5-4, in Game 3

The Red Sox used three pinch-hitters. Mike Napoli, the big bat they lost with the absence of the DH rule, was not one of them.

The absurdity reached its height in the ninth inning, when Napoli sat on the bench and watched Brandon Workman bat with the score tied, against St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal and his 98-mph fastball.

Workman is a pitcher. He had zero at-bats in his major league career, zero at-bats in his minor league career. He struck out, of course, on three pitches.

“In hindsight, having Workman hit against Rosenthal is a mismatch,” Boston Manager John Farrell said.

Yet Farrell said he was fine with not batting Napoli there. The right call, Farrell said, would have been a double switch that would have enabled backup catcher David Ross to bat against Rosenthal.

Farrell said he wanted to save Napoli in case the pitcher's spot came up again, in extra innings. The game never got there.

Farrell also said he wanted to get a second inning out of Workman. The manager said he thought closer Koji Uehara could give the Red Sox “four to five outs,” but not six.

The Red Sox played the entire season with David Ortiz in the cleanup spot and Napoli behind him. As the World Series arrived in an NL park, the Red Sox had to pick one or the other. If Ortiz would get to play — and, with home runs in each of the first two games, he would — then Napoli would not.

Ortiz, the designated hitter, played first base. Napoli, the first baseman, sat on the bench.

Ortiz said he understood why Farrell did not use Napoli in the ninth inning.

“You've got to save him,” Ortiz said. “We were running out of pitchers.”

The game found Ortiz in the fourth inning, when the Red Sox had a runner on first base and two out. Ortiz stepped to bat, but the guy in the on-deck circle was not Napoli, who had 23 home runs this season. The guy was Daniel Nava, a part-time left fielder who had not started in 11 days.

The Cardinals walked Ortiz, then struck out Nava.

Fast forward to the seventh inning. The score was tied, 2-2, and the Cardinals' Matt Carpenter led off the inning with a ground ball to shortstop. Ortiz could not handle the short-hop throw. The play was scored an infield single, but it is impossible not to wonder if a guy who had played more than six games at first base this season might have had a better chance.

After a hit batter, Matt Holliday doubled home two runs.

The subject of the DH came up before the game, in a brief interview session with Commissioner Bud Selig. Selig has long insisted the great divide would remain because NL owners did not want the DH and AL owners — and the players' union — would not surrender it. On this night, however, Selig pointed out that replay was a no-go not too many years ago.

“I'm never going to say never to anything,” Selig said. “But at the moment, is there anything going on? No.”

The DH rule might be unified someday, but too late to help this year's Red Sox. Napoli has played 6,486 innings in his major league career, none of them at third base. But there he was on Saturday, taking ground balls at third base during batting practice. In case of emergency.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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