When Lou Piniella put one of his pitchers, Sean Marshall, into left field for a batter in tonight’s game so he could keep him in the game and let him face the next couple batters, the announcer noted that he’d pulled a similar double switch on July 15, 1993, with Jeff Nelson. I remembered him doing that with Randy Johnson too in 1993. As it turns out, he didn’t: Piniella put Randy in left for the entire ninth inning of the last game of 1993, vs. the Twins. Anyway, I dug out the summaries of the two games. Here’s the Tacoma News Tribune on July 16, 1993:
Lou Piniella manages one way – to win – though on Thursday he managed to confuse four umpires, the Boston Red Sox and more than a few of his own Seattle Mariners.
In the eighth inning of a one-run game, trying to nurse home a lead without closer Norm Charlton, Piniella brought in left-hander Dennis Powell to face one batter.
Instead of sending right-hander Jeff Nelson to the clubhouse when Powell entered the game, however, Piniella sent him to left field – enabling him to bring Nelson back to the mound.
All that worked, though the last out of the game was recorded by rookie Mike Hampton, whose first career save preserved Seattle’s 3-2 victory over Boston and continued a Mariners winning streak that has now reached six games.
“I’ve seen that move in the National League, but never in the American League,” Piniella said of his unorthodox plays. “In the National League, it’s just a one-for-one switch, but I knew over here it involved the designated hitter somewhere.”
When Piniella told home-plate umpire Durwood Merrill what he had in mind in the eighth inning, Merrill huddled for nearly two minutes with his crew – long enough to bring Sox manager Butch Hobson out of his dugout to see just what was happening.
“There was a little confusion, but they figured it out,” Piniella said.
“In 17 years in the big leagues, I’ve never seen that,” Merrill admitted afterward.
“I had no idea what he was doing – none,” Ken Griffey Jr. said. “But when I saw Jeff Nelson going to left field I just started smiling.”
When Butch Hobson opened the eighth by sending out right-handed pinch hitter Carlos Quintana, Piniella countered with Nelson, who got the first two batters he faced and should have gotten the third. But Tino Martinez dropped Billy Hatcher’s foul pop-up near the Red Sox dugout, and Hatcher followed with a single.
Up came left-handed hitting Mike Greenwell. Out of the Seattle dugout came Piniella. And the fun began.
By sending Nelson into left field and letting Dennis Powell pitch to Greenwell, Piniella lost his starting left fielder – Greg Litton – and the use of his DH for the night. But after Powell retired Greenwell, Piniella was able to use Nelson again in the ninth inning.
On the mound.
“I didn’t have a clue what Lou was doing when he started talking to the umpires,” Nelson said. “Then he told me to go out to left field. I haven’t played the outfield since Legion ball in ’84.”
“He shags real well during batting practice,” Piniella said, then grinned. “But the first thing I told Powell was `Don’t let ‘em hit it to left.’ “
Powell didn’t, getting Greenwell to pop to second base.
Came the ninth inning, and Nelson got Andre Dawson and Bob Melvin before Martinez booted a Nelson Riles grounder for an error to bring up the go-ahead run in left-handed hitting Scott Cooper.
Out came Piniella again, and this time Nelson was pulled entirely for Hampton, who carried the enthusiasm of youth – and a 7.98 ERA – into the game.
And the Seattle P-I’s description:
To get the final out and preserve a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning last night, Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella put two pitchers on the field simultaneously.
He lost two hitters in the process but the unusual maneuvering worked, the lead was protected – even with a pitcher in left field – and the M’s began the second half of the season with a victory.
Another strong outing by starter Dave Fleming and three runs in the fourth inning provided the normalcy in a 3-2 Seattle win over the Boston Red Sox before 33,342 at Fenway Park. The victory pushed the Mariners over the .500 mark (45-44) for the first time since they were 17-16 May 11 and extended their winning streak to a season-best six straight.
Enough of that, however.
The bottom of the eighth inning provided most of the interest in this game. It took more time to sort out the M’s defensive alignment and revised lineup than it did for the third out to be recorded.
There were two outs and none on when M’s first baseman Tino Martinez reached into the Red Sox dugout trying to catch Billy Hatcher’s popup. The catch wasn’t made and Hatcher singled to right-center field on Jeff Nelson’s next pitch.
Piniella walked to the mound, stopping on the way to talk to plate umpire Durwood Merrill. The M’s manager, who didn’t have either Norm Charlton (suspension) or Chris Bosio (tomorrow’s starter) available, wanted to keep Nelson in the game. But not on the mound.
“When Lou came out, I thought I was out of the ball game,” Nelson said. “Then he told me to go to left field. I mean, I shag fly balls during batting practice but that’s a lot different than a real game situation. I was nervous. I hadn’t played out there since high school, and that was in 1984.”
Greg Litton, who started the game in left, gave Nelson some advice. “Don’t let anything get past you if it’s hit to you,” Litton said.
Then Nelson huddled with Ken Griffey Jr., who was surprised to see Nelson take a defensive position.
“I told him if there was anything hit into the gap, make sure to yell loud so I wouldn’t run into him,” Nelson said.
Griffey’s response: “I told him if the ball was hit to him, make sure you throw it to the cutoff man and don’t give up any double or triple.
“I was hoping the ball would be hit to him and he’d make a great catch at the wall.”
Said Merrill: “I have been umpiring in this league for 17 years and I’ve never seen that. Lou didn’t want to lose his DH (Marc Newfield), but I told him `Lou, this isn’t the National League and if you put the pitcher somewhere else, then you lose the DH.’ Once we got that sorted out and he put the hitters (pitchers) where he wanted in the batting order, everything was fine.”
Powell, meanwhile, was in his own little world.
“I was clueless until I got into the dugout and Jay (Buhner) said, `Thanks for not letting (Greenwell) hit the ball to left,”‘ Powell said. “Then he told me Nelson was out there.
“I’m glad I didn’t know because it might have hurt my concentration. I was so tuned in to facing Greenwell, I didn’t know (about Nelson).”
And here’s the News Tribune again, on the Big Unit in left on October 3, 1993:
There was little in the way of unfinished business the Seattle Mariners could have taken care of Sunday – so they took care of a fantasy.
One last victory wouldn’t have moved them in the standings, and they didn’t get that, regardless, as the Minnesota Twins won the final game of the season, 7-2.
But in the bottom of the eighth inning, down by five runs and with the Mariners just hours away from catching planes headed toward all parts of the country, manager Lou Piniella heaved a sigh and indulged Randy Johnson one last time in 1993.
No, the Big Unit didn’t pitch, never got the chance to pick up that elusive 20th victory in relief. Instead, he played . . . left field?
“He wanted to play first base, but Dave Magadan was due up in the top of the ninth,” Piniella said. “So I told him to grab a glove and head out to left field.”
A day after Ken Griffey Jr. made his major league debut at first base, the 6-foot-10 Johnson stood tall in left field and hoped to get that ESPN dream highlight-film opportunity.
“I was hoping I’d get to go back to the wall and take a home run away from somebody, just like Junior,” Johnson said.
Didn’t happen. No ball was hit his way in a 1-2-3 inning, although in right field Dann Howitt made a diving catch of a line drive – a play that brought the reality of outfield play in on Johnson.
“I was thinking if that ball had been hit to me, I wasn’t going to be diving at it,” he said.
“I’m anxious for spring training, I’m anxious to see what happens over the winter for this team. Maybe next year I’ll win 20 games and get to play first base, too.”