You can take the manager out of the National League, but you can't take the NL out of the manager.
Before joining his hometown Tigers, manager Jim Leyland spent 14 seasons with the Pirates, Marlins, and Rockies — all National League teams. Once he made it to the D, he seemed content (for a stoic gruff little man) but deep within his soul you knew he secretly kept moderate enmity for the designated hitter rule. Pinch hitting and double switches just aren't very sexy in the bash-happy American League.
But during interleague road trips … it's open season on crafty maneuvers.
On Saturday night against the Dodgers, down 6-2, Leyland didn't just double switch (although there was one of those too), in the seventh inning he sextuple switched:
Pinch hitter Ryan Raburn stayed in the game at second and Ramon Santiago moved to short. This worked out, since shortstop Adam Everett was pulled for pinch hitter Austin Jackson, who himself stayed in to play center, bumping Johnny Damon from center to left and Brennan Boesch from left to right. Incumbent right fielder Magglio Ordoñez was yanked, replaced in the lineup by new pitcher Joel Zumaya, relieving Fu-Te Ni. I just mentioned nine baseball players.
That might've been the nuttiest lineup card Tilt-A-Whirl in baseball history — and it almost resulted in a comeback — but Sunday's maneuver might've been even more sublime.
Up 4-2 in the top of the ninth, the Tigers had runners on the corners with one out and the pitcher's spot batting next. Announced as the pinch hitter was pitcher Dontrelle Willis, he of eight career home runs and six pinch hits. Here's where Leyland began his opening Vulcan chess gambit. The struggling Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario was saved by manager Joe Torre's hook and replaced by George Sherrill, perhaps to assuage the lefty-lefty matchup.
Leyland's counterparry? Pinch hit Adam Everett for Willis.
It was … befuddling, to say the least. Everett might be a worse hitter than Willis, depending on who you ask. Was he really playing the percentages between Dontrelle Willis and Adam Everett?
Well, he showed us all how much we knew. Everett laid down a successful squeeze bunt, scoring a run and moving the runner to second. Johnny Damon followed with an RBI single. And after Ramon Santiago recorded the third out, Everett — the better defensive shortstop — replaced Santiago on the double switch.
Maybe it's a managerial art form only the nerdiest fans can adore. As MLB.com's Jason Beck tweeted, "Leyland gets to keep NL street cred."