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Sunday, March 6, 2011
Joe Maddon and the five-man infield


CLEARWATER, Fla. -- By the ninth inning of most spring training games -- especially road games two hours from home -- most managers are thinking about how soon they can get on the bus.

Not Joe Maddon.

He is thinking about making history.

Well, not exactly. But the always-innovative Tampa Bay Rays manager made a little history all the same Sunday afternoon, by hauling out the seldom-seen five-man infield in the ninth inning of what was about to turn into a 5-4 loss to the Phillies in the all-important Grapefruit League.

Now the historic part wasn't just that Maddon did this in a spring training game, even though I can't remember ever seeing it in spring training. Ever. Especially when there are guys running around the field wearing numbers like 97.

What made it historic was that I know for a fact -- due to the kind of ridiculous research I can't seem to stop myself from doing -- Maddon just became the first manager in the history of baseball to use a five-man infield in a World Series game and a spring training game against the same team.

In 2008, you might recall Maddon tried his nickel defense at 1:45 a.m. in the ninth inning of the rain-delayed third game of the World Series, only to have it foiled by a game-winning dribbler up the line by Carlos Ruiz.

After an insane amount of delving into that little maneuver, we were able to determine it was the first time any manager had used a five-man infield in any World Series game ever played.

Then there Maddon was again Sunday, 29 months later, finding himself in the ninth inning of a 4-4 game (same score, coincidentally, as in Game 3, 2008). One out. Winning run at third. And another Phillies catcher -- in this case, minor-leaguer Joel Naughton -- heading for the plate.

So there came the manager to move around the chess pieces.

Russell Canzler moved from left field to third base. J.J. Furmaniak ambled over from third to play the shortstop area. Tim Beckham shifted to middle linebacker, behind second base. Daniel Mayora, who had just moved from third to second, patrolled the right side. And Leslie Anderson, who was a member of the Cuban national team when Maddon did this in the '08 World Series, stayed at first.

"You work on these things in practice, you might as well try them in a game," Maddon said. "I know that isn't our normal infield. But even in a minor league situation, when those guys go out and play during the year, they might have an opportunity to do it. We worked on this about 10 days ago. The opportunity came up. So let's go try it."

Those five-man infields don't work real well, though, when your pitcher gives up a rocket to right field, which is what reliever Brian Baker did moments later. So the final score wound up Phillies 5, Rays 4. Just as in Game 3 of that World Series.

"To me, it's very simple," said Maddon, who also once used a four-man outfield against this same team in a 2006 interleague game. "If you're going to work on something, use it. That's all."

Because I couldn't help myself, I asked him if he thought any other manager had ever used a five-man infield against the same team in a spring training game and a World Series game.

"You can let me know tomorrow," he laughed. "But I'll sleep well tonight regardless."

In Other News

SPRING BOX SCORE LINES OF THE DAY

" Tim Lincecum, Sunday versus Seattle: 3 2/3 IP 3 H 0 R 0 ER 3 BB 7 K. Know how many pitchers in baseball had struck out seven hitters all spring before this, in all their outings combined? Just five. And all of them needed at least two outings to do it. " Edwin Encarnacion, Sunday versus Pittsburgh: 4 AB 0 R 0 H 0 RBI 4 K. First golden sombrero of the spring, best we can tell. And how many four-whiff games has Encarnacion had in his entire career in the regular season? Just one -- way back on June 9, 2007, according to the baseball-reference.com Play Index.

INJURY OF THE DAY

Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos will be hobbling for the next six weeks because he strained his rib cage -- by sneezing.

"When you have that big of a rib cage, the strain can be excruciating," Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin.

STAT OF THE DAY

Through Saturday, Astros hitters had racked up 14 double-play balls this spring -- and two home runs.