Michael Martinez entered Game 7 of the 2016 World Series as a designated thrower.
After Yan Gomes’ throw to second base got away on a Jason Heyward stolen base attempt, the Cubs outfielder sprinted to third, setting Javier Báez up for a bunt attempt on a full count.
Prior to the pitch, Terry Francona inserted Martinez into right for Coco Crisp, in the case that Báez or Dexter Fowler on deck would give Heyward the chance to score on a sacrifice fly. Báez fouled off his bunt attempt for a strikeout, and Fowler grounded out, so Martinez never got that chance.
Fast forward to the bottom of the 10th inning, Rajai Davis had just delivered another moment of magic, singling home Brandon Guyer to make it 8-7. Martinez would get his chance, yet.
But what if he didn’t? What if the man with the career 34 wRC+ and -2.8 WAR did not take the most important at-bat in recent history? What if the Indians had a better option on the bench?
What if that better option was Josh Tomlin?
What would you say if I told you it almost happened? What would you say if someone with more knowledge than this writer told you it almost happened?
That truly almost happen— Andre Knott (@DreKnott) May 22, 2017
Josh Tomlin owns a career slash of .304/.304/.348, with an 81 wRC+. Sure, the sample size is 24 career plate appearances, but Tomlin’s -0.8 career batting runs are better than any single season of Martinez, who topped out (no pun intended) at -1.8 in 2015. The diminutive utility man slashed .194/.243/.261 in 621 attempts.
Prior to his one year at Texas Tech, Tomlin played two years as a shortstop at Angelina Junior College, where he went 73-for-208 with 17 doubles, four doubles and a home run in his sophomore year. The idea of him hitting in the majors was brought up as early as 2012, mostly as a punchline, but it sure sounds like he would have been more than willing to do it if asked.
“When it comes to hitting, it’s mainly a joke more than anything else,” Tomlin said. “I enjoy hitting. I enjoy being a part of the game as a whole — not just on one side, playing defense. I feel like you can take a little bit of pride in [hitting] if you can help your team in any way possible.”
In fact, earlier in 2016, the righty posted a two-hit game against the Cincinnati Reds. You telling me this guy can’t hit?
Furthermore, Tomlin may have been the right guy in the right spot, all things considered. After Davis’s RBI single off of Carl Edwards, Jr., Joe Maddon went with lefty Mike Montgomery to finish things off. Montgomery features five pitches, his primary sinker, a curve and a change, to go with his four-seam and cut fastballs.
Naturally, Montgomery generally worked down-and-in to right-handed hitters, with his cutter and curve coming in on the hands, tunneled with his sinker and changeup that break away.
Tomlin never did have much luck against lefties, hitless in six plate appearances against southpaws. That being said, he did most of his damage on the inner part of the plate.
Contrarily, both pitches Martinez saw against Montgomery were curveballs high-and-away. Perhaps Montgomery would have pitched Tomlin differently because he was a pitcher. Maybe he would have pitched Tomlin differently because he was an objectively better hitter.
It is easy to understand why Francona did not make the move to Tomlin, considering the team was out of position players on the bench. All things equal, better to have a player who can play the field effectively should the game be tied and go deeper into the November night. That is, if you believe all things were equal.
A move to pinch hit a pitcher would have probably been seen as bold on the surface, and elicited a few jeers had it not paid off. Though it is not as if anyone would look at Martinez’s accomplishments and say, “They pinch hit for this guy?”
On the other hand, Francona would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame the next day should Tomlin have doubled and set up Gomes or Carlos Santana (probably Santana) for a walk-off hit.
Additionally, whether you see Francona’s gift as either unifying clubhouses or catering too easily to players’ egos, some trust could have been lost in telling a position player that he hits worse than a pitcher. Not to mention what that says to a fan-base, seeing as that player was trusted in Game 7 of the World Series, let alone on the roster.
Apparently, inserting Tomlin was given some amount of consideration, and for good reason. It remains both hilarious, and well-founded in terms of all-time Cleveland sports ‘What if’s’.
Josh Tomlin was a hero several times in the 2016 run, and he should have been given one more chance.