The only reason Jose Lobaton (.184 average with one home run in September, hitless in playoffs) was in the game to face Koji Uehara (1.09 ERA, 21 Saves this season), was a little known rule turned the Tampa Bay Rays into an NL team Monday. The result was the most lopsided pitcher-batter match-up you could hope to see in an AL playoff game, which of course resulted in Lobaton blasting a two-out homer in the ninth to give the Rays their fourth straight do-or-die win this week.
Lobaton was only in the game, much less batting clean-up, because of a decision made 40 years ago when the designated hitter rule was introduced. Opponents of the DH rule pointed out that all kinds of players could be rotated into and out of DH spot since none of them had to take the field. As a compromise, the AL put in a rule that required the pitcher to enter the line-up if the DH took a position on the field.
Lobaton was sitting innocently on the bench prepared to watch the rest of the game when suddenly right fielder Wil Myers hurt himself on a swing. He tried to go to the outfield for the top of the inning, but could not run. The Rays only good option to take his spot was Matt Joyce – who unfortunately for the Rays was playing DH.
Suddenly the Rays were an NL team, figuring out double switches to keep any of their pitchers from actually having to lift a bat.
Finally a double switch put Lotaton in at catch and in the clean-up spot that was occupied by the pitchers’ spot due to an earlier switch.
When Uehara entered the bottom of the ninth with a 4-4 tie and not having allowed a run in his last nine outings, he had a tough task.
The No. 2 hitter Ben Zobrist who was anxious to make up for a first inning error that helped the Red Sox get their first run en route to a 3-0 lead, and had a .354 on-base percentage and could steal a base to put the winning run in scoring position (11 of 14 stealing). Uehara induced a ground out.
Then came the biggest challenge, Even Longoria who had 32 home runs on the season and had blasted a 3-run shot in the fifth to bring the Rays back from the dead and tie the score 3-3. A line-out to center put Uehara only one out away from forcing extra innings.
Lobaton then hit a ball alone the same basic track as Longoria, only it kept traveling well over 400-feet to force a Game 4 and make the Rays 4-0 in the last eight days in games in which their season would have ended with a loss.
Last Sunday they survived a regular season finale to finish tied for the last playoff spot. Monday they went to Texas and one the one-game tie-breaker. Wednesday they went to Cleveland and won the wild-card game. After two losses in Boston, they returned to Tampa with a chance to be swept 3-0.
The win Monday gives them another do-or-die Tuesday in Tampa Bay, and if they win that they can play a sixth one in Boston Thursday.