While there is no good reason for a player — any player — to be making a decision of this magnitude instead of his manager, when the manager can choose to be objective and the player cannot, I suggest Don Mattingly pose the following question to Hanley Ramirez:
“Would you rather play two hours at a level which may compromise your team's chances to win — in excruciating pain tonight — when you can instead go for one historic swing as a pinch hitter, OR would you rather rest your weary body because we just might not need you, AND take a shot at going to the World Series, quite possibly in better condition than you are now?”
Because that's what this comes down to; that's how easy the call is for Mattingly to make. Hanley needs to sit and watch Nick Punto tonight, gently root his mates to victory — perhaps while making Mickey Mouse ears and eye-see-you salutes — take that one cut at the plate if necessary, and get three uninterrupted hours of treatment if not.
And don't you love that phrase this time of year? “If necessary.”
The Dodgers can score a run or two or three off of St. Louis rookie starter Michael Wacha with Punto at short the full nine. And if Clayton Kershaw shocks the world by allowing the Cardinals more, Los Angeles will just have to respond.
Maybe Adrian Gonzalez pisses off the entire Midwest with who-knows-what kind of celebratory gesture after a mammoth home run. Or two. Perhaps Carl Crawford hits his fifth homer of the 2013 postseason, or A.J. Ellis his second. For all we know it'll be Kershaw who launches his second round tripper of 2013, or Punto who will hit his third. And his fourth. It's October; it's possible.
A writer tweeted the other night (forgive me, because I can neither recall the writer nor find the tweet) about having spoken to Dr. Frank Jobe at Game 5 Wednesday in Los Angeles. What the good doctor suggested as a remedy for Ramirez's cracked rib is two weeks of rest. Come first pitch Friday he'll have 50 hours in the bank.
If he's rested, and just as likely not needed to pinch hit as he is likely (because there is no predicting baseball, and especially not in the postseason), Hanley will have an additional 24 hours of sitting (or reclining) prior to Game 7.
If L.A. wins the pennant Saturday (and again, who knows if they'll need Ramirez to pinch hit in Game 7?), Ramirez may be looking at a full week's rest when the World Series opens on Wednesday, October 23 in either Boston or Detroit. And that week just might make all the difference in world. Add two more days DHing at the most, throw in the travel day, and he's pretty close to the two weeks Dr. Jobe prescribed by proxy. Hanley might be 100% by then, and he'll most certainly be immeasurably better than he is now.
I'm not suggesting Ramirez sit for the entire contest tonight, or Saturday, if necessary. Just save him for a spot where he can change the game with one swing. Use him with a base open in front of Adrian Gonzalez, for example, and he might not even have to move a torso.
The point is, Mattingly has options, all of them better with his star playing sitting and watching at the start, rather than at the finish. At the moment Punto is the better shortstop. The Dodgers are deluding themselves, and risking the health of a player for no good reason and quite possibly to their detriment, if they think otherwise.