Series: World Series, Game 5.5; Phillies still lead 3-1
Game Situation: 2-2 tie, Middle of the 6th
Active Pitchers:Grant Balfour (1 IP, 9 pitches) vs. Hamels (6 IP, 75 pitches)
Though Hamels is still technically the active Phillies pitcher in this suspended Game 5, he won't participate in the resumed game, no matter when it's played. That saves Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel from having to decide whether or not to pinch-hit for Hamels, who was due to lead off the bottom of the sixth in what is now a tie game. Manuel is now almost guaranteed to send either Greg Dobbs or Matt Stairs to the plate when the game resumes. Balfour threw just nine pitches last night and, as a reliever, would be well within his comfort zone to continue when the game resumes, but if Manuel sends up a lefty such as Dobbs or Stairs, both of whom have sharp platoon splits, Rays manager Joe Maddon might be tempted to counter with one of his left-handed relievers, which would eliminate Balfour from the remainder of the game. In addition to their existing home field advantage and corresponding last licks, that would give the Phillies an early edge simply because they will have eliminated one of Maddon's big bullpen weapons in a tie game.
Yet, Maddon could have an ace up his sleeve in David Price. Price is one of the top starting pitching prospects in baseball but was moved to the bullpen for the postseason. When this game resumes, be it tonight or tomorrow, it will feel to all involved like the start of a new game. Price is a lefty, one of the Rays' best relief options, and capable of a multi-inning outing. Maddon could simply tell Price that he's the "starting pitcher" for the resumption of Game 5, which would allow the rookie to treat the game like his own start, complete with his usual pregame routines rather than a rushed bullpen warmup. Starting Price would also preempt Manuel's pinch-hitting move, as the Phillies lack a right-handed option anywhere near as dangerous as Stairs or Dobbs. Suddenly, it would be the Rays who had the young ace on the mound, completely flipping the script we had entering Game 5 Monday night.
The one problem with the Price plan is that the pitcher's spot is due up fourth for the Rays in the top of the seventh, and Maddon is not about to double-switch with any of his top five hitters. Giving Price the "start" when the game resumes would require Maddon to value having Price pitch multiple innings over having a pinch-hitter bat either in the seventh or possibly even leading off the eighth. His other option would be to leave Balfour in the game, or replace him with a short-relief lefty, pinch-hit when the pitcher's spot next comes due, and then put Price in the game. It's tricky business with very little room for error given that a quick Phillies run could put the Rays just a handful of outs from elimination.
On the other side, Manuel has it pretty easy. It's a no-brainer to pinch-hit for Hamels to restart the game, and the top of the order will follow. If the Phillies get a lead, he can go straight to relief aces Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, be it in the seventh, eighth, ninth, or beyond. His biggest trick is what to do if the Phillies don't get that lead. J.C. Romero has also pitched well in this series, but the underside of the Phillies bullpen hasn't seen much work. Righty Chad Durbin and lefty Scott Eyre have combined for just 1 1/3 innings in this Series, and Durbin allowed two baserunners in the process of getting his two outs. Neither Clay Condrey nor lefty J.A. Happ, the rookie starter available for long-relief in the Phillies' pen, has pitched since Game 3 of the NLCS, when Condrey worked just two-thirds of an inning. Unless the Phillies score in the bottom of the sixth, it seems unlikely that Manuel will be going straight to Madson in the top of the seventh, when switch-hitter Dioner Navarro will lead off, followed by a pair of righties and then the pitcher's spot. That makes the start of the seventh an inappropriate spot for Romero, the Phillies top lefty in the pen, who would be better off facing the three lefties among the top four men in the Rays order. That means if the game is still tied entering the seventh, we're likely to see the underwhelming Durbin or Condrey start the inning, which opens the door for the Rays.
The Phillies' ability to get that quick run is now once again in doubt as their struggles with men on base returned last night. They loaded the bases in both the first and fourth innings against Rays starter Scott Kazmir, who walked six men and hit a batter last night, but managed just two runs in the first. In the two innings in which the Phils got the bases juiced, they stranded six runners, and they've stranded nine in the five innings in Game 5. The rather sudden turn of events that saw the Rays tie the game and the game get suspended could allow those missed opportunities to ferment in the minds of the Phillies, who might have been World Champions by now had they only pushed across one more of those nine stranded runners. (It seems to me that Commissioner Bud Selig's method of avoiding a rain-shortened Phillies win was to wait around for the Rays to either tie the game or make their 27th out, as the conditions were clearly unplayable long before the umpires finally called it).
The suspension of this game represents an opportunity for the Rays, a team that didn't seem to have much hope left heading into last night's game. Suddenly they have the opportunity to steal a win and push the Series back to Florida without having to face Hamels, creating a major shift in momentum in the process. The Phillies could be World Champions three innings after Game 5 resumes, but it suddenly seems just as likely that these two teams will still be playing on Thursday in Florida.