That great strategic move that tied — and eventually won — Game 3 of the American League Division Series Wednesday would never happen in the National League.
National League managers almost never pinch-hit for a great hitter, even one who’s struggling. I debunked the myth of National League strategy a couple years ago and won’t repeat the detailed case here. Suffice it to say the the move Joe Girardi made was strictly an American League call. NL managers use their pinch-hitters primarily to bat for pitchers, usually an easy call. Or they hit for the weakest hitters in their linup.
The Orioles pitched three right-handers last night. Without the designated hitter, Ibañez and/or Eric Chavez certainly would have been used to pinch-hit for the pitcher earlier in the game (the ninth spot in the batting order came up in the eighth inning). Chavez did play Wednesday, but A-Rod would have played third base, rather than DH, if the pitchers were hitting, so Girardi would have had two outstanding left-handed pinch-hitters to use.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the 5th, the second time the 9th spot came up, Girardi might have pinch-hit with either Chavez or Ibañez. That’s one of the few tough calls NL managers have, a little early to hit for the pitcher, but with a man on base and a good bullpen, a pinch-hitter would have been likely. By the eighth inning, Girardi absolutely would have pinch-hit trailing 2-1. Given the dramatic homer that Ibañez hit the last week of the season, he likely would have gotten the call if Girardi still had both him and Chavez available. Would he have hit the homer to tie the game less dramatically in the 8th? Who knows? He would have been facing a different pitcher. Might he have stayed in the game to hit again in extra innings? You can’t say.
But the gutsy call of pinch-hitting for a multi-time Most Valuable Player? That’s strictly an American League call.