Tonight Cole Hamels, a minor league star pitcher in the Phillies’ system, made his major league debut against Cincinatti, pitching 5 innings of shutout ball. He wasn’t particularly efficient (92 pitches, 5 walks in only 5 innings), but he struck out 7 and allowed only 1 hit. He was effective and gave his team a chance to win.
The Phillies were batting in the top of the 6th inning with the bases loaded and 2 outs. Cole Hamels was due up. Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel called Hamels back from the field and replaced him with a pinch hitter, Abraham Nunez. Even though Hamels was pitching well, the Phillies had only a 2-run lead over the Reds, a team capable of hitting tons of runs. Seeking to score a few more runs, Manuel sent an experienced bench player to replace the rookie pitcher at the plate.
Nunez, the experienced bench player, struck out. Inning over.
Well, that’s baseball. In a sport when hitting the ball 1/3 of the time gets you in the Hall of Fame, you get used to pinch hitters who strike out. It happens.
But if the pinch hitter situation wasn’t bad enough, Cole Hamels was replaced on the mound by Ryan Madson, a young pitcher who struggled this year as a starter but who excelled last year as a reliever. Madson quickly let up two solo home runs, erasing the Phillies’ lead and denying Hamels the chance to earn his first major league Win.
So what? As a Phillies fan I cringed when Madson gave up the lead, but as a baseball fan I appreciated the strategy and decisions Charlie Manuel had to make. You see, this would not have happened in the American League. In the American League the pitcher doesn’t hit, and thus he is never taken out of the game for offensive considerations. In the AL, pitching decisions are based purely on pitching situations.
But in the National League, the pitcher is a full player – required to play in the field and swing a bat, and making the game’s strategy much more complex. In this situation, Charlie Manuel thought that he had a chance to increase the Phillies’ small lead with a pinch hitter, even though that meant removing his very successful starting pitcher who had allowed only 1 hit and 0 runs.
That’s National League Baseball – the way the game was meant to be played.