Defense, injury fears key Molitor decision DH disappointed, but backs Gaston

October 20, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Before the game, it was a hard decision to make. Almost 3 1/2 hours and a 3-for-4, three-RBI effort later, the decision was excruciating. But Toronto manager Cito Gaston stuck by his decision not to start Paul Molitor at third base or left field in tonight's fourth game of the World Series.

"I don't think it would be fair to him and I think it might take a lot away from him as a player if he has to play out of position," Gaston said of the veteran designated hitter, who starred as John Olerud's replacement at first base in the Blue Jays' 10-3 victory in Game 3 last night.

Before Gaston's pre-game announcement it had been generally believed that Molitor would replace Ed Sprague at third base in the other two games in Philadelphia, where the DH is not being used.

Gaston based his decision on two factors -- not wanting to disturb his club's defense and a fear that Molitor might risk injury, or have an offensive letdown, playing a position he hadn't played in two years.

"If he'd been playing third base, there's no doubt where I would play him," Gaston said. "But there's no question he's had some shoulder problems in the past, and still does. Most of the time you win with pitching and defense, and I think we're better off to stick with that."

Molitor, who seemed surprised and somewhat disappointed at not being able to return to his old position, had been working out at both first and third base for the past couple of weeks. He has played about 100 games at first base in the past two years, but hasn't played third since 1990.

"It wasn't something I've seen on the field [during workouts]," Gaston said. "I just don't think it's fair to him. He hasn't had a chance to play there under game conditions.

"As a hitter, I think if you're going to worry about your defense it's going to affect your hitting. I don't think that would be fair for him -- or productive for us."

Molitor, who failed to handle two shots by John Kruk but turned an important double play in the seventh inning, admitted to some uncomfortable moments afield last night.

"I wasn't very coordinated at times," he said. "Getting off to a good start offensively made it a little easier defensively."

When the subject was broached to Sprague, the young third baseman, who is a converted catcher, said jokingly: "I never thought my defense would keep me in the lineup."

As for benching the league's leading hitter (Olerud) last night against Phillies left-hander Danny Jackson, Gaston said, "it hurts," but that his first baseman had no trouble accepting the one-game demotion.

"I'm fortunate that all three of these guys [Molitor, Sprague and Olerud] just want to do what is best for the team."

But Olerud was quick to say he would much rather be playing.

"It's tough to sit there and watch. You just sit and eat sunflower seeds," he said after last night's game. "But I think it definitely helped that our team played so well and scored so many runs. You'd like to be in there, but he [Molitor] had a great game, he got us on the board early, got some great hits. You couldn't ask for a better job."

Somebody asked Olerud whether he didn't think it was a bizarre situation, having the best hitter in the league [.363] sitting on the bench. "I guess you could say that," he said, "but somebody will think it's just as bizarre tomorrow, when the second-best hitter in the league [Molitor, .332] is on the bench."

Molitor didn't try to hide his disappointment at sitting, but he offered no complaints.

"I would've loved to have given it a try," Molitor said. "I think, with my experience, I learned a long time ago to separate the two [defense and offense] very well. I didn't see it being a major problem.

"It would be exciting to go back to my old position, but I knew if we got here [to the World Series] that this was a real possibility. The thing is, all of us wants to come out of this with four wins. If we do, that's all that matters."

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