Papi no stranger to playing the field in Fall Classic
Papi no stranger to playing the field in Fall Classic
By Doug Miller
When the Red Sox are in the World Series, baseball fans are assured of a few constants. One is that David Ortiz will do something memorable. The other is that Ortiz will play first base on the road.
Yes, it's that time of the early 21st century again, when the Fall Classic shifts to a National League stadium and the Red Sox must deal with the temporary loss of the designated hitter by moving Ortiz, who will turn 38 in November, to first, where he hasn't played the majority of his games in a big league season since 1998.
Ortiz did it for two games during Boston's sweep of St. Louis in the 2004 Fall Classic and for two more in his team's sweep of Colorado in '07. He didn't commit an error in either Series. Ortiz hit over .300 in both Series. He even turned a nifty double play in Game 3 of the '04 Series, nailing Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan at third.
So at this point, it doesn't seem like a big deal. The Red Sox will likely elect to keep Ortiz in the lineup, especially after his hot start in this Series (homers in each of Games 1 and 2, a would-be grand slam that was robbed by Carlos Beltran in Game 1), so they're willing to absorb the loss of Mike Napoli, who will have to sit to make room for Ortiz at first, and any fielding mistakes Ortiz might make.
"How we go from there, we'll go to it day to day," Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Game 2. "But again, we're going to lose one of the middle-of-the-order bats, and that's understood going in. But still, David's in a pretty good place right now, offensively."
American League managers in the World Series have been forced to make decisions like this for years. A lot of times, they've worked. Sometimes, they haven't.
Here's a quick rundown of some of the other more recent high-profile DH-to-defense maneuvers in the Fall Classic:
Players to hit home runs in first two games of a World Series
Barry Bonds *
Hank Bauer *
* -- Hit a homer in Game 3 as well
2010: Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers
Texas had profited substantially from Guerrero's bat all season (.300/.345/.496, 29 homers, 115 RBIs), but the former AL MVP Award winner was 35 and hobbling around on worn-out knees, which was the reason he'd DH'd in 129 games that season and played the outfield in only 18.
Rangers manager Ron Washington forged ahead, penciling in Guerrero's name in right field when the World Series against the Giants began in San Francisco, and the skipper regretted the decision quickly. Guerrero got a bad read on a fly ball right away in the first inning and made two errors in the eighth in an 11-7 loss.
Washington sat Guerrero the next night and saw his team go down to the Giants in five games, with Guerrero going 1-for-14 (.071) in the Series.
1996: Cecil Fielder, Yankees
Before "Big Papi," there was "Big Daddy," who came over to the Yanks from the Tigers at the Trade Deadline and helped spark an offense on its way to a championship. Fielder hit 13 homers in 200 regular-season at-bats for the Bronx Bombers in 52 games, 43 of which were started at DH.
So when it was time for New York, down 2-0 in the Series and heading to Atlanta, to decide who would play first, Yankees manager Joe Torre opted for the right-handed-hitting Fielder over the left-handed-swinging Tino Martinez with southpaws Tom Glavine and Denny Neagle slated to take the ball for the Braves in Games 3 and 4.
It paid off. Fielder hit .391 in the Series, drove in two runs, didn't make an error at first, turned a nifty 3-6-3 double play in the first inning of Game 3 against speedy Mark Lemke, and the Yanks won four straight games to claim their first World Series title in 18 years.
1995: Eddie Murray, Indians
Future Hall of Famer Murray, then 39, had played 95 games at DH and 18 at first base for Cleveland during the regular season, so he wasn't a stranger to the position, and it showed.
Murray didn't make any errors in three games of the six-game set that the Braves won in six, and he hit a two-run homer in Game 2 off Glavine, proving that Tribe manager Mike Hargrove's decision to keep his bat in the lineup was wise.
Most career postseason home runs
1993: Paul Molitor, Blue Jays
Molitor was another fantastic hitter on his way to the Hall of Fame, so it wasn't surprising that Toronto manager Cito Gaston wanted him in the lineup every night. Then again, the Jays had the AL batting champion that year, John Olerud, as its first baseman.
It wasn't a problem in the first two games of the 1993 Fall Classic against the Phillies, because they were held at SkyDome. But Molitor, who was 37 years old and had played 137 games at DH that year and 23 at first base, relegated Olerud to the bench in Game 3 in Philadelphia. Molitor played first, went 3-for-4 with a homer, a triple and three RBIs, and turned a 3-6-1 double play with the bases loaded in a 10-3 win.
After insisting that Molitor would not play third base, a position the veteran hadn't manned since 1990 while with the Brewers, Gaston changed his mind, inserting Molitor at the hot corner for Game 4 and starting Olerud at first while giving the club's regular third baseman, Ed Sprague, a breather.
Molitor went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, handled the only ground ball hit his way in the fifth inning, and Toronto won a slugfest, 15-14.
"I figured we could sell more newspapers with this [move]," Gaston said. "I was uncomfortable with Paul playing third base, but I woke up wishing he could play third. I called him in one more time and asked him if he felt a little more comfortable playing third. He said he wanted to play."
Molitor played third again in Game 5, also handling the only grounder hit at him, and ended up the MVP of the World Series as the Jays won on Joe Carter's famed Game 6 walk-off homer.
1992: Dave Winfield, Blue Jays
Another future Hall of Famer, another position switch.
Winfield was 41 years old and had played 130 games at DH and 26 in right field that year, so Gaston put him in right for the games against the Braves in Atlanta.
Again, Gaston's strategy worked. Winfield handled all the fly balls hit his way (five in Game 2, two in Game 6) and was the right fielder in Game 6 when his two-out, two-run double in the 11th inning ended up being the World Series-winning hit.
1991: Chili Davis, Twins
Davis, then 31, had been Minnesota's regular DH for 150 games of the 1991 season and had played in two games in left field all year. Twins manager Tom Kelly started him at DH and hit Davis cleanup in Games 1 and 2 against the Braves in the Metrodome, and Davis homered in his first at-bat in Game 2 of the '91 Series off Glavine.
Kelly didn't start Davis in Game 3 when the Series moved to Atlanta, but he must have liked what he saw in Davis' game-tying pinch-hit homer in the top of the eighth inning against Steve Bedrosian, because after taking a day off to sit against right-hander John Smoltz in Game 4, Davis was in right field for Game 5 against Glavine.
The one-game risk didn't hurt Kelly. Davis went 1-for-3 with two runs and caught the one ball hit at him in a 14-5 Braves romp. The Twins went on to win the Series in seven games.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.