boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
Bob Ryan

Who's on first? Ortiz; Youkilis sits

A tour of the Rockies home field in Denver with Bob Ryan. Produced by Thushan Amarasiriwardena. http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1272136795http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=245991542

DENVER - Last time, it was easy. Your Aunt Ethel could have made out the lineup.

There was no designated hitter controversy in 2004 when we got to St. Louis. Let's see, Big Papi or Millar? Big Papi or Mientkiewicz? OK, it's Big Papi. You got a problem with that?

It's not so open and shut when it's Big Papi or a guy slugging .771, a guy who, despite a misleading 0 for 3 in Game 2, is swinging the bat as well as anyone on the team. In the 31 years the DH has been a part of the World Series, no manager has ever had a tougher call than Terry Francona does tonight.

Now I'm thinking bad tough, but Kevin Youkilis says I should be thinking about it the other way. "It can be a tough decision," Youkilis points out, "but whatever he does, it's the right one, because we're all understanding."

Let's hope Youk really means it, because there isn't going to be any question tonight which player in the 2007 World Series will be leading the cheers while boasting of the gaudiest stats. It will indeed be Kevin Youkilis. David Ortiz is in and Youk's out.

"It's a difficult position to be in," acknowledges Francona. "But I don't have any second thoughts about what we're doing. I'd rather play all three."

His other option, of course, was to remove Mike Lowell, he of the 120 runs batted in, and put Youkilis at third, his original position. But that, clearly, was never on the table. It was always going to come down to David Ortiz vs. Kevin Youkilis.

Defense, you say? Sure, the manager worries. Who wouldn't? He's taking out a guy who didn't make an error all year and makes just about every play a first baseman can make, and putting in a relatively immobile 240-pound guy with notoriously bad knees. What manager wouldn't worry?

"The big worry is that David just hasn't been out there," Francona says. "He's been there before, but he hasn't been out there, and even if you're a Gold Glover who's been out a while, it's not fair."

Youkilis insists he's fine with all this. "It doesn't bother me," he says. "I want to play, but I totally understand the situation. Look, I'm doing everything I've always wanted to do. I'm playing in a World Series. I'm playing every day. I'm happy. I just want to win. We all do. All three guys are pulling for each other. If I have to take a seat, that's just the way it has to be."

The real question is why we're even having this discussion. There is no longer any administrative difference between the American League and National League. The respective presidencies were abolished years ago. The umpires are under the same umbrella. It's all about scheduling, nothing else. So why do we have two sets of playing rules? How does that make sense?

No-DH baseball is an enormous advantage for the National League, and the fact they haven't made better use of it in the World Series speaks to the huge gap in talent separating the leagues. The American League can generally beat them with one hand tied behind their back, so to speak.

American League teams are very often built around the designated hitter. One in Boston serves as Exhibit A.

"Look at our DH," says Youkilis. "He's probably our best hitter. Cleveland is designed the same way. [Travis] Hafner is their best hitter."

In the AL Championship Series, the respective DHs batted third. In Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, Colorado manager Clint Hurdle's apparent best option was to employ outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. He batted ninth, and we can say he did so on merit because in the two games at Fenway Park, he was 0 for 5 with a walk and three caught lookings, all in Game 2. You'd hate to think of what was on the bench.

Losing the DH is only part of the problem for the American League representative. National League pitchers are used to batting. The preponderance of them can at least get a bunt down when necessary. American League pitchers are a bit more iffy in that regard.

I know, I know. I'm whining. I'm sorry, but I just can't get past the manifest stupidity of having two sets of rules when there really aren't two leagues. And then when we get to the All-Star Game, which is the one place crying out for the DH, pitchers are forced to bat. Come on, Bud. Explain that one to me.

When you look at this particular circumstance, you almost have to step back and laugh. It's as if the commissioner, or somebody, looking at the reality that the Red Sox are up, two games to none, said, "Hey, let's try to equalize this thing. Let's take away a great hitter from them. That ought to give the Rockies a better chance."

The whole thing is ridiculous. No other sport operates like this. It would be like telling the Colts they can't use Adam Vinatieri when they go to Philadelphia.

Francona remains outwardly calm, but you wonder what he's really thinking. "I think David is a really good hitter," he says. "I think Mike Lowell is a really good hitter. And I actually think Youk is a really good hitter. But they won't let us play all three of them. So we'll go with this. The hope would be that we'd have a lead and we'll put Youk in late. It doesn't always work out perfect, but we'll do the best we can."

I just hope I live long enough to see baseball adopt a common rule. Either have a DH or don't have a DH. The way it is now is beyond absurd.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES