You may not have realized it, but something pretty rare happened at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night: one of the game’s greatest hitters was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the 9th inning with the game on the line. I’m talking, of course, about Joe Girardi’s decision to lift Alex Rodriguez and replace him with Raul Ibanez. I mean, the Yankees were down by one run, and their manager replaced a guy who’s 5th on the career home runs list with 647 with a guy who’s tied for 172nd and actually four years older.
Now, that’s not a knock against the 40-year-old Ibanez. The guy is a real pro and a class act. But A-Rod is A-Rod. So this was a pretty big decision. So today, in honor of this rare occasion, I present this list of the best players ever to be pinch-hit for in the postseason with the game on the line.
Now, what do I mean by “with the game on the line”? Well, I mean a situation in the 7th inning or later in which the batting team is losing, and in which a home run would at least tie the game—just like Wednesday night in the Bronx. And how did I determine the “best” players? Well, I started with a chart produced by baseball-reference.com that lists the players with the highest career Wins Above Replacement total to be PH for. Then I took a look at the individual players’ seasons and ranked them accordingly
So who’s on the list? Let’s get started and find out.
Career WAR of original batter: 62
Career WAR of pinch hitter: -0.7
Mark McGwire's last two seasons, 2000 and 2001, were dominated by injuries, so he only played 89 and 97 games respectively. In 2001 his offensive WAR was only 0.4, but he did hit 29 HRs.
Nevertheless, after going 0-3 at the plate in Game 5 of the 2001 NLDS against the Diamondbacks, Tony LaRussa sent speedy utility man Kerry Robinson to the plate to lay down a bunt and advance the runner on first base over to second. It was the top of the 9th, and the Cardinals were only down by one. If that situation had come one year earlier (after a season in which Big Mac's offensive WAR was a very good 4.0), he never would have been PH for. As it is, the Cardinals still lost the game 2-1 and the series 3-2.
9. Mark McGwire (2001 NLDS)
Career WAR of original batter: 32
Career WAR of pinch hitter: -1.7
That very same NLDS in which McGwire was PH for also saw the Diamondbacks Steve Finley get replaced by a PH. That season Finley batted a solid .275/.337/.420 and had an offensive WAR of .5—which isn't great, but it's not bad. Nevertheless, in the bottom of the 8th with the D-Backs tailing 3-0 and runners on second and third with only one out, Finely, who was 0-for-3 that night, was replaced by a journeyman named Danny Bautista.
Result: Bautista grounds out, scoring the runner on third. Big whoop. Cardinals win, 4-1.
8. Steve Finley (2001 NLDS)
Career WAR of original batter: 99
Career WAR of pinch hitter: 22.9
Toward the end of his career, Rickey Henderson wasn't the same player he used to be. In 2000, at the age of 41, he found himself playing for the Mariners. His offensive WAR that year was only 0.6; however, being Rickey Henderson, he still got on base at a well-above average clip of .368. Nevertheless, with Seattle trailing the White Sox 4-3 and the bases loaded with one out in the to of the 7th, Henderson was replaced by Stan Javier...who struck out looking. Fortunately for the M's, the next batter, Mike Cameron, singled to right to bring home the tying run, and they went on to win the game 7-4.
7. Rickey Hendeson (2000 ALDS)
Career WAR of original batter: 34
Career WAR of pinch hitter: 33.4
You want to know the crazy thing about this case? Harold Baines was PH for not once, not twice, but four times with the game on the line in the 1997 American League Championship Series. In Games 2 and 3 it was in the 7th with the Orioles down 1. In Game 4 is was in the 7th with the Orioles down 2. And in Game 6 it was in the 10th with the game tied. And this was a guy who had hit .301/.375/.485 that season with an offensive WAR of 1.5. Moreover, in the postseason he was batting .364, and his OPS 1.076. I'm not even kidding. 1.076. What kind of insanity is that?
Oh, and the guys who pinch hit for him? In Games 2 and 3 is was Geronimo Berroa (.283/.369/.467 with 26 HRs), while in Games 4 and 6 it was Eric Davis (.304/.358/.525). So it's not like they were bad or anything. Of course, they the PHs didn't come through, either: four fly balls and a strikeout, and the Indians won the series in 6.
6. Harold Baines (1997 ALCS)
Career WAR of original batter: 52
Career WAR of pinch hitter: -1.5
Surprisingly, Kenny Lofton was still a valuable offensive player in 2006 with the Dodgers. He hit .301 and got on base at a .360 clip, good for an offensive WAR of 2.0. However, in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Mets at Shea Stadium, in the top of the 9th with the Dodgers down 2, a runner on third, and two outs, Lofton (a lefty) was lifted and replaced by Ramon Martinez (a righty), who had hit .278/.339 that year.
It paid off. Martinez hit a double, bringing the Dodgers to within 1 run. However, they didn't score that 1 run, and the Mets went on to sweep the series.
5. Kenny Lofton (2006 NLDS)
Career WAR of original batter: 75
Career WAR of pinch hitter: 8.4
Even at the age of 38, Wade Boggs had a good year for the Yankees in 1996. He batted his customary .311 and had an excellent OBP of .389, which gave him an offensive WAR of 2.3. But with the Yanks down 4-2 in the bottom of the 7th, runners on second and third, and only one out, manager Joe Torre decided he didn't want a lefty-lefty match-up. So he made the bold decision to replace Boggs with the right-handed hitting Charlie Hayes, who had hit .253/.300/.375 that season. The move paid off a little—Hayes hit a pop fly that scored the runner from third and cut the Rangers' lead to one. The Yankees would then score another run in the 8th and one in the 12th to win the game 5-4 and even the series at one game a piece.
4. Wade Boggs (1996 ALDS)
Career WAR of original batter: 108
Career WAR of pinch hitter: 17.4
A-Rod has the highest career WAR of anybody ever PH for in the postseason with the game on the line. However, he doesn't rank #1 on this list because his numbers this year aren't what they once were. Sure, a line of .272/.353/.430 aren't horrible, and they still add up to an offensive WAR of 2.3. However, without his power, A-Rod isn't the same threat he once was at the plate. And of course, so far this postseason, he hasn't even hit for average, having gone just 1-for-12 heading into the 9th inning of Game 3 against the Orioles on Wednesday night. So Joe Girardi decided to yank him in favor of the 40-year-old lefty Raul Ibanez, who hit .240/.308/.453 this season, but smacked 19 HRs.
Of course, what did Ibanez do? He made Girardi look like a psychic genius by knocking the first pitch he saw out of the park. Then he hit another homer in the 12th to give the Bronx Bombers a walk-off win.
3. Alex Rodriguez (2012 ALDS)
Career WAR of original batter: 33
Career WAR of pinch hitter: -1.6
Playing right field for the Mets in 1973, Rusty Staub hit a respectable .279/.361/.421 and accumulated an offensive WAR of 2.5. He didn't start Game 1 of the World Series agains the Oakland A's, but in the top of the 9th, with the Mets down by one with a man on and one out, Staub was tapped to PH for the pitcher against Rollie Fingers. However, after the lefty Staub was announced as the PH, Oakland replaced the right-handed Fingers with the left-handed Darold Knowles. So New York countered by PH for Staub with Jim Beauchamp. Thus, Staub never even got an at-bat before being PH for, and Beauchamp popped out to the second baseman.
2. Rusty Staub (1973 World Series)
Career WAR of original batter: 57.3
Career WAR of pinch hitter: 0.6
The best player ever PH for late with a postseason game on the line (at least, at the time of the at-bat) is Jim Edmonds in the 2005 NLCS against Houston.
In 2004, Edmonds was part of the Cardinals' so-called "MV3" with Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. That year he hit .301/.418/.643 with 42 HRs and an offensive WAR of 6.8, and in the postseason he hit an extra innings home run in Game 6 of the NLCS to force a Game 7. The following year, in 2005, Edmonds wasn't nearly as great, but he was still respectable, hitting .263/.385/.533 with 29 HRs and an offensive WAR of 4.0—tops among every other player on this list in the year they were PH for in the postseason.
In Game 4 of the NLCS, with the Astros up 2-1 in the series, the Cardinals were down 2-1 in the top of the 8th inning with two outs and a man on first when Edmonds' spot in the lineup came up. To that point in the postseason, the center fielder had hit .292 with an OPS of .935 and had gone 1-for-3 that game.The pitcher? Right-handed Dan Wheeler. So it was the perfect spot for the left-handed Jim Edmonds to display some more postseason heroics...only he got ejected for arguing balls and strikes with a 3-2 count. He was replaced at the plate by rookie John Rodriguez, who flied out to deep center field.
Houston won the game 2-1, and the seires 4-2.
1. Jim Edmonds (2005 NLCS)
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