By now you've probably read quite a bit about the 17-inning Red Sox/Orioles game that was completed on Sunday with position players pitching for both teams. Grant Brisbee wrote this epic feature (and if you read it, you'll see why "epic" is the right word) on the game and if you're interested in some of the number details, CBS Sports' Danny Knobler has them.
So far, though, I don't think anyone has asked what is, to me, the obvious question about this game:
Why on Earth did Buck Showalter and Bobby Valentine do that?
Not one of the 16 relief pitchers (including position players Chris Davis and Darnell McDonald) threw more than 35 pitches -- and those 35 were by an actual pitcher, Baltimore's Kevin Gregg (insert joke here about Gregg being an "actual pitcher"). No reliever in Sunday's marathon went more than two innings.
Really? Really? Are we now babying pitchers or that specialized in bullpens that no relief pitcher can come in, in an extraordinary situation like this, and throw more than two innings? Maybe Valentine and Showalter feel that way, but even with the specialized bullpens of today, there have already been 80 relief appearances of more than two innings this year.
This is especially true in an American League game, where you don't have to worry about pinch-hitting for the pitcher. None of those men could have gone a third, or fourth, inning in relief, especially with the relatively modest pitch counts? Of the 80 relief appearances mentioned above, 43 of them are three innings or longer.
Instead, we got the spectacle of Orioles DH Davis, who hadn't pitched since he was at Navarro College in 2006, and Red Sox outfielder McDonald, whose one career pitching appearance before Sunday (on August 26, 2011, in a game where the Red Sox were losing 13-4) resulted in a pair of walks and a two-RBI double by Josh Willingham.
That's when I believe you should use position players as pitchers -- in games where your bullpen is overworked and you're getting blown out.
Presumably, the first-place Orioles and the struggling Red Sox were trying to win Sunday's game, an important one for both teams. Davis had good velocity and wound up the winner after McDonald gave up a three-run homer to Adam Jones, but he'd have wound up losing if J.J. Hardy hadn't made a perfect relay to the plate to throw out Marlon Byrd in the 16th inning.
So what should these teams have done? There's a recent example from this Cubs/Astros game played in Houston on August 15, 2006. The Cubs had gone through their entire bullpen, so manager Dusty Baker inserted the next day's scheduled starter, who threw two scoreless innings. Houston manager Phil Garner, incidentally, used Dave Borkowski for a six-inning relief appearance that night; he threw 70 pitches and did fine until the Cubs broke through for two runs in the 18th inning and won the game.
The Cubs' Triple-A Iowa affiliate happened to be playing less than 200 miles from Houston at Round Rock on that day; the Cubs hired a limousine to pick up a non-prospect lefty named Ryan O'Malley and drive him to Houston in time to start the next day's game. O'Malley shut out the Astros for eight innings and the Cubs won 1-0. It was O'Malley's only moment in the major-league sun; he made just one more start and never returned after that.
So why didn't Valentine or Showalter do that? Felix Doubront is Monday's scheduled starter for Boston; Brian Matusz will go Monday night for Baltimore. Rob Neyer suggested to me that "starting pitchers are big on their routines, and asking the next day's starter to warm up quickly and go into the game is problematic", but once you've got a game that goes beyond about 14 or 15 innings, "routines" go out the window, in my opinion.
In the Cubs/Astros situation, the 18-inning game was a night game, and the following contest an afternoon affair, which didn't give the Cubs much time to get a starter, yet they found one anyway. In this case, neither the Red Sox nor the Orioles play until Monday night -- easy enough, you'd think, to get a pitcher from Triple-A Pawtucket or Triple-A Norfolk to make an emergency start. Yes, I realize a roster move would be needed, but that doesn't seem an insurmountable obstacle, either. Perhaps MLB could change its rules to allow an extra pitcher on a roster for a day in a situation like this.
There aren't that many games that go this long -- about five per year, on average. So why essentially throw one away?
You'll note that I didn't mention above the name of the Cubs starter who was pressed into service in that 18-inning game. If you haven't clicked on the boxscore link yet to find out, it was Rich Hill.
Who threw two innings and 33 pitches in Sunday's marathon in Boston. Granted, Hill is coming off Tommy John surgery and probably couldn't have gone much longer, but maybe he should have told his manager about what happened in a similar game in Houston six years ago. Sunday's game was entertaining, to be sure, but it didn't seem to be much about winning baseball.