Tuesday, October 25, 2011

La Russa outthinks himself as Cardinals drop Game 5

BY David Villavicencio 

Tony La Russa has won a World Series in each league. He has the second-most victories in managerial history, won Manager of the Year four times and is considered by many to be a baseball genius.

He also just cost the Cardinals their 11th World Series title in franchise history.

Sure, the Cardinals stranded 12 runners on Monday night.

Yes, they did fail to get a big hit in multiple key situations.

Of course, the Rangers deserve some credit for executing in big moments.

But I am putting this disastrous loss squarely on the shoulders of the man making the decisions in the Cardinals dugout.

I am sure many of you reading this are saying, “Anyone can second-guess and look smart.” This is not second-guessing. I can’t prove it but I was predicting all these failures as he was making the moves, some of them even before he actually called for them.

Where do I begin?

How about the disgusting collapse in the eighth?

La Russa pulls starter Chris Carpenter to open the inning in favor of Octavio Dotel. The game is tied at 2 and La Russa is going to one of his better relievers.

Nothing wrong with that.

Carpenter pitched seven solid innings and deserved a better fate but his offense could not come up with the big hit to extend their lead. Dotel is devastating against right-handed hitters and the Rangers had Michael Young, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz due up in the eighth.

The move makes all the sense in the world.

Young shocks everyone by opening the inning with a double off Dotel. Yes, he is a good player but it was still a surprise as righties have hit just .154 against Dotel on the year.

Next up is Beltre, the man who crushed the game-tying homer off Carpenter in the sixth. Dotel strikes him out on three pitches. One out, man on second.

Now is where Tony and I begin to disagree.

Cruz is up with the go-ahead run on second. Tony decides to intentionally walk Cruz, who struck out 116 times this season.

Never mind that Dotel absolutely kills right-handed hitters. Don’t worry that he felt Dotel was clearly capable of retiring Beltre just minutes before.

Clearly, Cruz needs to be walked to set up the double play and bring up lefty David Murphy. After all, La Russa has lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski ready to go in the bullpen.

La Russa, who is all about the match-ups, was throwing away his best match-up for a situation that could have led Rangers manager Ron Washington to go to his bench. Wash could have brought in right-handed hitting Craig Gentry to face the lefty, thus rendering La Russa’s lefty-lefty pitching change useless.

But Washington sticks with Murphy and the Rangers catch a break as he hits a ball off Rzepczynski that leaves the bases loaded for Mike Napoli.

TLR doing his favorite sign, "New pitcher, please"
Now the master of specialization and king of pitching changes decided to ignore playing the matchups he so dearly adores and sticks with Rzepczynski against the lefty-killing Napoli.

Are you baffled yet? I know I am!

Of course, Napoli rips a two-run double that ultimately leads to the Rangers 4-2 victory. But La Russa’s managerial blunders are not done yet. Not by a long shot.

Rzepczynski strikes out lefty Mitch Moreland to record the second out. Is anyone sensing a pattern here? The lefty specialist is retiring left-handed hitters while right-handers are crushing balls into the gaps. Never mind that though. Must be beneath a genius like La Russa to see it.

Back to the action!

La Russa goes back to his bullpen as right-handed hitting second baseman Ian Kinsler heads to the plate with two outs and a runner on second. Tony signals for hard-throwing rookie Lance Lynn to enter the game from the bullpen to face the dangerous Kinsler.

Some may have gone to Jason Motte in that spot but La Russa went with Lynn. No big deal. Maybe he was saving Motte in case the Cardinals tied it in the ninth? Maybe he felt Lynn could handle Kinsler and pitch the ninth as well in case the Cardinals made up the deficit but did not surpass it.

Apparently La Russa went with door number 3 and here is where my blood pressure starts rising again. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina stands up and calls for an intentional walk. Few things drive me crazy more than changing pitchers and immediately issuing an intentional walk.

Why not have the departing pitcher walk the guy so the new pitcher can come in and hopefully pound the strike zone? Guess decisions like that are left to the geniuses like La Russa. I can’t possibly be competent enough to see the benefits of having the new guy walk the hitter instead of the old guy. But I digress.

So Kinsler is walked and Elvis Andrus is coming up. Lynn is on the mound with a force out set up and a ground ball hitter at the plate.

The kid is a talented rookie pitching in a big spot and the Cardinals… wait a minute, what? Why is La Russa walking out to the mound? Must be going out to give some words of encouragement to the kid as he is set to pitch to the most important batter of his career.

Did he just ask for the ball? Holy crap, he’s pulling him! Tony La Russa just brought in a pitcher to issue an intentional walk and he is removing him from the game in favor of someone else!

My disgust has now multiplied exponentially and I am doing everything in my power to not go nuts in front of the family members and guest watching the game with me at my house.

Jason Motte came in and struck out Andrus to end the inning but that is not the point. How can anyone justify the move La Russa made?

He claims it was “too loud” and the bullpen heard “Lynn” instead of “Motte” over the phone because clearly those two names sound so similar. I think Tony just loves to change pitchers and he couldn’t help himself. Why use three pitchers to complete an inning when you can use four!

But La Russa’s managerial mishaps did not end there. Sure, he made plenty of questionable decisions throughout the game. I just outlined what felt like 40 of them in the eighth inning alone but things continued in the top of the ninth.

The Cardinals caught a break when Rangers closer Neftali Feliz hit Allen Craig with a 1-2 breaking ball. That brought the tying run to the plate in Albert Pujols. This is the same player who crushed three homers two nights ago and is widely considered the best in the game. There is no one better for the Cardinals to have up than Albert.

Pujols works a full count and Tony gets that itch inside him that drives him to needlessly tinker.

On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Pujols fouls off a pitch to stay alive but something interesting happened. Craig, who had been thrown out by about 87 feet earlier in the game, was on the move. I immediately turned to my dad and said something like “why would he be running? That run is meaningless.”

It was probably to avoid the double play but this is Albert Pujols at the plate. Almost everything he hits is a rocket that would be tough to field unless it is hit right at someone. I think you take your chances that Albert finds a hole somewhere as your defense of a potential double play instead of starting a runner who is not the swiftest but that’s just my opinion.

Here comes pitch number seven of the at-bat. Again Pujols fouls it off and again Craig was running. Now I am really starting to get angry at this ridiculous decision by La Russa and say something about how that move is going to cost them.

Sure enough, Pujols swings through the next pitch and Craig is gunned down by about 17 football fields at second. That, my friends, is your World Series.

The momentum swung completely back in the Rangers’ favor as the biggest threat was eliminated and they were two outs away from a 3-2 series lead.

Matt Holliday worked a walk to give the Cardinals a glimmer of hope but Feliz squashed it quickly as he struck out Lance Berkman on five pitches to seal the victory.

The Cardinals head back to St. Louis to play Game 6 on Tuesday. If they should manage to win that game, they will play in a decisive Game 7 the next night. Anything can happen in a Game 7 but I am telling you what will happen if it gets to that point.

The Rangers will win.

How do I know this?

Because they have not lost consecutive games since they lost three in a row from August 23-25. I also know this because the Cardinals are scheduled to start Kyle Lohse in that game and he hasn’t been able to get anybody out lately.

But mostly, I know the Rangers will win because La Russa will continue to do everything he can to show off how brilliant he is. He will double-switch and play the matchups with his bullpen but only when he feels like it. He will continue to trot out automatic outs like Nick Punto when his team needs to score runs against a team that can outslug anyone. And lastly, he will find a way to snatch the 11th World Series title in franchise history away from the Cardinals and instead hand the Rangers their first ever World Championship.

Thanks, Tony.

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