To play or not to play Posey, that is the question
SAN DIEGO -- With the playoffs looming in a week for the Giants, manager Bruce Bochy may have to make one more significant decision before the regular season ends.Should he sit catcher Buster Posey if he has a slim lead over Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen for the National League batting title or should he let the MVP candidate play it out? "What do you think I should do?" Posey asked when queried by this reporter prior to Saturday night's 7-3 loss to the Padres at Petco Park. Play it out, particularly in the final game. "What if my body is hurting all over?" Posey retorted. "Well, don't you usually play every day with at least some part of your body hurting?" he was asked. "I think you know the answer to that question," responded the All-Star catcher, who has recovered spectacularly from a severe leg injury and played through Friday night's game after taking a pitch that hopped up and hit him in the Adam's apple. He's obviously no shrinking violet. The topic of whether to pay or not to play was brought up by reporters covering the team this weekend and Bochy said he reserved the right as manager to make that decision. "I'm going to talk to Buster," Bochy said on Saturday. "I'm going to take it out of his hands." It may be moot, anyway. Posey went 2-for-2 on Saturday night and is hitting .337, while McCutchen went 1-5 with a walk-off homer in a 2-1 victory over the Reds and is at .329. "I'm just trying to focus on each day right now and play it by ear as we go," Posey said. "I don't know, but that's what your first instinct is -- to play." It's a time-worn topic. Twenty-two years ago, as future Hall-of-Fame Royals third baseman George Brett was making a run at the last of his three American League batting titles, he asked anyone who would listen the same question posed on Saturday by Posey: Should he sit out the last game with a slim lead or play? On Oct. 3, 1990, Brett didn't start in a meaningless game against the Indians at Municipal Stadium. He did pinch hit, smacked a single and stayed in to blast a sacrifice fly, winning the batting title with a .329 average. He went into that game batting .328 and could have slipped to .326 if he had gone hitless in those two at bats. Rickey Henderson finished at .325. That took some guts. A year earlier, right fielder Tony Gwynn of the Padres and first baseman Will Clark of the Giants went head-to-head for the crown in the old Padres' stomping grounds in Mission Valley. It turned out to be one of the most exciting and poignant batting title pursuits in history. The Padres had been eliminated from the NL West race the Thursday night before the start of the three-game series, leaving Gwynn -- another future Hall of Famer -- going after his fourth of eight titles as the main local story line. Like this year, there were mitigating circumstances for the Giants, who were heading into the playoffs and had bigger issues than a batting title to deal with. Still, Clark played every inning of all three games. The title wasn't secured by Gwynn until the final Sunday of the regular season. On Oct. 1, 1989, he went 3-for-4 and Clark was 1-for-4. When Gwynn singled to right in the eighth inning, both men knew it was over. Clark shook Gwynn's hand as he settled in at first base. A crowd of 24,031 in what was then called Jack Murphy Stadium gave Gwynn a rousing standing ovation. Gwynn finished at .336, Clark at .333. As they say, it's a man's game. Now, fast forward to the final game of the 2011 season for the Mets at Citi Field. Shortstop Jose Reyes secured the batting title with a bunt single in the first inning and manager Terry Collins immediately took him out of the game against the Reds for a pinch runner. Reyes hit .337 and Ryan Braun hit .332. A twitter avalanche blasting Collins' move began almost immediately after it happened and the criticism lasted for days. Reyes claimed he asked his manager to remove him from the game if he got a hit and Collins agreed. "I asked him how he wanted to go about this," Collins said that day. "I wanted to take him out at the appropriate time. He said if he got a hit his first time up, he'd like to come out. I said, 'You know, I want you to win this thing.' He said, 'That's what I want to do.' So it was decided then." This is exactly what Bochy needs to avoid at all costs. Posey has had a fantastic comeback season. There should not even be a perceived stain on it. "He's going to play him," Bud Black, Bochy's successor as manager in San Diego, opined on the pending decision. "I think you've got to play him." Bochy is still mulling it over. As perhaps a preemptive strike, Bochy pulled Posey out after the sixth inning on Saturday night. He had already said that Posey would not play in a day game here on Sunday, but that he plans to use all his regulars in three night games at Dodger Stadium that end the regular season, beginning on Monday. If the batting race tightens up between now and then, Bochy has reserved the right to make the final call. He has four games to figure it out.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.