David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. LOUIS - First, a disclaimer. We like having to play by National League rules. When a pitcher has to hit, the scenario opens up any number of potential storylines, from “helping his own cause” to forcing a manager to double-switch. Plus the games usually are quicker.
But with the World Series having moved to Busch Stadium for Games 3, 4 and 5 -- meaning no DH -- it’s starting to feel silly that the title is decided by two different sets of rules, depending on the ballpark being used.
It’s not a new argument. The Fall Classic has followed this pattern full-time since 1986, the first year the home venue determined if the DH was used or not. Before then, from 1976-1984, the DH was used only in World Series played in even-numbered years. Even after the American League adopted the rule in 1973, it took three years for Major League Baseball to let it be part of the championship event.
We now can safely say the feeling-out period is over and the DH should be the standard -- for the regular season and every round of the playoffs, especially the World Series.
Commissioner Bud Selig repeatedly has said he likes the distinction between the leagues, but the DH is all that remains, and there’s no point in letting pitchers hit for tradition’s sake.
Switching the rules to match the home stadium is nuts, and the Cardinals will get a huge break for three straight games because the Sox can’t put David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the lineup together.
Ortiz got the Game 3 start at first base, with Napoli on standby as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement, depending on the late-inning situation.
From an offensive standpoint, starting Ortiz is a no-brainer. He homered in each of the first two games and has five homers and 12 RBIs this postseason. But Napoli is far superior with the glove, and in these tight games, all it takes is one pivotal error to ruin a night.
In Game 3, Ortiz couldn’t scoop Xander Bogaerts’ one-hop throw to the outfield side of the bag -- Napoli would have -- and the resulting infield single ignited a two-run seventh inning that snapped a 2-2 tie.
It wasn’t an error by Ortiz, and hardly routine for Bogaerts, who had to deliver the rushed throw mid-stride as he charged the half-swing grounder. But it was an example of how those DH-exposed flaws can become highlighted.
“Fortunately for us, I think there’s probably more of an adjustment for the American League team coming in,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “There’s a lot more moving parts. Our club is designed for a National League style of play.”
At Fenway, how hard was it for Matheny to write down Allen Craig’s name as the DH? Other than using one of his bench players for the start of the game, it doesn’t change what the Cardinals like to do. Matheny still gets to use the defensive alignment he wants with the bonus of another legitimate bat.
For the Red Sox, switching to Busch -- and the NL’s archaic rules -- forces them to play at less than full strength. It also forces their pitchers to hit, something they haven’t done in a long time. The Red Sox had played one interleague series on the road, a two-game stopover against the Rockies at Coors Field, since Aug. 26.
“Even something as basic as a sacrifice bunt, we don’t have that much repetition,” Farrell said. “We can work all we want in the cage or live BP sessions. But you put 40-plus-thousand people in the seats and 90-plus \[mph\] coming at you, that’s a different scenario.”
Also, an unfair one. The Red Sox were awarded the four games at Fenway based on the AL winning the All-Star Game, but with Boston losing the DH and the direct implications of that, it’s possible that the series won’t make it back to Boston.
Changing the system can’t happen overnight. If the DH became universal, the NL teams would have to adjust their rosters -- and payrolls -- accordingly. But having one set of rules, DH or not, could be considered before Selig steps down in January 2015.
“I’m never going to say never to anything,” Selig said before Game 3. “But at the moment, is something going on? No.”
It should be, though. And the sooner, the better.