No, your television wasn’t malfunctioning — that was Blue Jays pitcher Dustin McGowan donning a helmet and jogging out to second base as a pinch runner in the eighth inning on Monday night. Now, the decision to use McGowan in that situation wasn’t completely asinine, but to use the next day’s starter as a pinch runner did seem a little strange.
"He’s our fastest runner," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, who was hardly in the mood to break down the decision after Toronto dropped a 6-4 decision to Oakland.
Bare with me here on the logic, though.
A’s reliever Andrew Brown is tanking it, while Oakland is clinging to a 6-2 lead in the eighth. Brown then gives up a double to Frank Thomas to cut the lead to 6-3. With two outs, Toronto needs runs and there’s no way Thomas makes it home on a base hit. So, the Jays need a pinch runner.
On the bench is A. Aaron Hill, B. Matt Stairs, C. Gregg Zaun, and D. Ray Olmedo. With Brown slipping fast, and lefty Alan Embree warming in the bullpen, Gibbons knows he’s probably going to want to pinch hit for left-handed hitting Russ Adams. Another hit probably means the showers for Brown and an entrance for Embree.
If that’s the case, Gibbons will want to use the right-handed hittiner Hill, who can then replace Adams at second base — it’s the natural choice. Whether or not Hill comes through, the A’s are then likely to turn to right-handed closer Huston Street, which means Gibbons will want to save his lefty bats — Zaun and Stairs — as pinch hitters to replace righties Thigpen and McDonald, who are up after Hill.
So, that leaves Olmedo, right? Well, if you insert Olmedo as the pinch runner, he becomes the DH. That means, when you pinch hit Stairs for McDonald, you would need to shift Olmedo to shortstop. If that happens, Toronto would lose the DH and its pitcher would be forced to bat if the game extends into extra innings.
That’s where McGowan comes in.
Considering starter Shaun Marcum only lasted three innings, the Jays need all the relievers they can get. So, no one’s going to be making the jog from the bullpen to replace Thomas at second. And, you’re sure as heck not going to see either Roy Halladay or A.J. Burnett, and all their millions of dollars in multi-year deals, out there on the basepaths. Unfortunately, that leaves McGowan.
The play worked. McGowan ran out there and Troy Glaus doubled him home to cut the score to 6-4 — and Thomas would’ve had to stop at third base. Of course, Hill then popped out against Embree, and Zaun and Stairs were quickly set down by Street in a scoreless ninth. Game over.
It made some sense, but it certainly was risky. I’m not saying I agreed with the move — I didn’t — but I can see the sort of logic that led to the decision. It just would’ve been terrible had Glaus’ double been the type that led to a collision at the plate involving McGowan, when he’s supposed to start on Tuesday.
And, for what it’s worth, where’s the offense? Sure, Joe Blanton dominated for the A’s, but the disappearing act by Toronto’s bats has hindered this team all season. It would’ve been a nice story to see the offense finally helped out the pitching staff, when it’s been the other way around all year.