After much deliberation, that was the decision reached yesterday by manager Cito Gaston. Less than two hours before the scheduled start of Game 3 last night, Gaston revealed that Molitor would replace John Olerud at first base against Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Danny Jackson.
But, at the same time, Gaston dropped something of a bombshell by saying that "Paul probably will sit the next two games." It had been generally believed that Molitor would replace Ed Sprague at third base in the other two games in Philadelphia, where the designated hitter 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.
"I don't think it would be fair to him [Molitor] and I think it might take a lot away from him as a player if he has to play out of position," Gaston said.
Asked whether there was any scenario under which Molitor might play third base, Gaston hedged only slightly. "I don't think I'll play Paul at third -- I might, but I doubt it," he said.
"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."
Gaston indicated that the Blue Jays would have to be down in the series 3-1 before he would consider changing his mind. "If we lost a couple and if Eddie's not swinging the bat too good, then I might take a chance," he said.
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."
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), 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."
Olerud, while acknowledging he would rather play, said the decision to sit him down against a left-handed pitcher made sense. "I think it was a tough decision on Cito's part," he said, "but I think it probably makes the most sense. It [first] is his most comfortable position."
Somebody asked Olerud whether he didn't think it was a bizarre situation, having the best hitter in the league 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] is on the bench."
Olerud flirted with a .400 average for more than half the season before finishing with a .363 mark. He hit .291 against left-handers.
Molitor didn't try to hide his disappointment at possibly having to sit out two games, but he offered no complaints.
"John, Eddie and myself have talked about it a lot lately," he said. "We have nine guys who deserve to play and can only play eight -- and we had confidence in Cito to do what he felt best.
"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."
Still, there's no doubt what Molitor would do if the decision were up to him -- even though he stopped short of saying it last night. He was asked what he would do if he were writing the lineup.
"To be honest with you," he said, baiting the hook with a pause, "I'd have to say . . . I can't answer that question."
And that was the end of the discussion. At least for the time being.