PHILADELPHIA – So, the starting pitcher might get taken out before he throws the evening's first pitch.
Because the first person up to bat is going to be a pinch hitter.
And the starting pitcher – well, he's not exactly the starting pitcher, anyway.
Confused? Sorry. That's what happens when baseball postponed Game 5 of the World Series in the middle of the sixth inning with the score 2-2 and will pick it up 46 hours later. The game will begin with "God Bless America" instead of "The Star-Spangled Banner." The seventh-inning stretch will come in the second inning of play.
And, yes, the starting pitchers are relievers. This much we know: When Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel pinch hits for the game's original starter, Cole Hamels, to lead off the bottom of the sixth, he will insert setup man Ryan Madson in the top of the seventh. Depending on who Manuel uses to pinch hit, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon may stick with right-handed reliever Grant Balfour, who finished the fifth inning Monday, as his "starter." Or he could walk to the mound before Balfour throws his first pitch and replace him with a left-hander.
"When you really sit down and look at it or attempting to figure out all the different potentialities of this moment, it's kind of weird," Maddon said. "You probably do it every night and not give it that much thought, when you are actually playing the game all the way through, but now that it's magnified in this one moment, trying to set it up appropriately in the bottom of the sixth inning is kind of freaky."
Whoever throws the game's 161st pitch, the evening will be a first for baseball: a sudden death of sorts, with the Phillies primed to clinch their first championship since 1980 and second in their 126-year history, and the Rays trying to send the series back to St. Petersburg, Fla., where Game 6 would be played Thursday as originally scheduled.
Philadelphia has the advantage, certainly, beginning with 12 outs to the Rays' nine. The Phillies can shift the game's balance immediately, too, by inserting one of three left-handed pinch hitters – Geoff Jenkins, Greg Dobbs or Matt Stairs – to face Balfour. Though Balfour has shined against left-handed hitters this season – and the third hitter due up, Jayson Werth, kills left-handed pitching – it could prompt Maddon to call on one of his lefty relievers – J.P. Howell or Trever Miller.
Maddon likely will save David Price, his 95-mph-throwing lefty rookie, for an inning later. Because the Rays will begin with their sixth, seventh and eighth hitters, Maddon could be forced to pinch hit in the ninth spot, and he would prefer to save Price for a multi-inning stint. Should the Rays go down in order in the top of the eighth, Price likely would enter the game in a double-switch with right fielder Rocco Baldelli, who hits seventh and would be replaced by Gabe Gross or Ben Zobrist.
How long Manuel stays with Madson is another question filled with intrigue. With three of the first four Rays hitters left-handed, Manuel likely would summon left-hander J.C. Romero, against whom Tampa Bay has struggled this series.
"I wouldn't trade positions," Manuel said. "So I guess I feel like I have an advantage. That's kind of how I look at it. Destiny's one thing. But if they're destined, we're gonna definitely try to fight through destiny. That's about all I can say."
The chess moves will continue throughout the night, regardless of how long the game goes. And because the score is tied, the game could go well into extra innings. Maddon is the mad-scientist tactician, the grain around for him to go against, whereas Manuel is the more traditional manager, cognizant of lefty-righty matchups and not straying far from them.
Though on a night like Wednesday, when the wind chill will dip below freezing and the players will be hamstrung not just by long underwear but the knowledge that their season could end with one hit in the final third of a game, nothing can be assumed.
"This," Maddon said, "is the fun part."
And in a World Series highlighted by rain and poor umpiring, it is. Baseball. Crunch time. Immediacy.
For once, confusion doesn't seem so bad.