How not to manage in a pennant race

Hit the showers boys. You've earned your one inning break.

If Tony LaRussa is known for anything, it’s his intensity, his inability to leave things alone. . . . oh, and his weird love of animals.  Well today his inability to leave things alone overruled his intensity and it cost the Cardinals first place and maybe even a trip to the postseason.

With the Cubs (who only have 7 wins in their last 22 games, 4 against the Red Birds) leading the Cardinals 8-2 after 8 innings, LaRussa decided that it would be very important to get two of the best hitters in the majors a rest for the stretch run.  It seemed like an inconsequential thing at the time, and especially after the Cubs tacked on another run in the top of the 9th to go up 9-2.

But as it turned out, the Cardinals were not done.  Rookie Steven Hill led off the bottom of the 9th with his first career home run to make it 9-3.  Two hits, a walk, a strikeout, and another walk later, the Cards were down 9-4 and those just tuning into the game were in time to hear that the bases were loaded with the 3rd spot in the order due up, which 99% of the time is occupied by the game’s greatest hitter.  But instead of Albert Pujols, it was Felipe Lopez who stepped up to the plate.  To be fair, he did hit a two run single, bringing the tying run to the batter’s box in the form of arguably the best hitting outfielder over the last 5 years, Matt Hol. . . wait, Holliday is out too?  Welcome to the game Randy Winn.  Winn walked, then the next two batters grounded out and the Cubs won the game 9-7.

As I said before, it seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but given the fact that the Cardinals are in a dog fight for the NL Central, they can’t afford to pack it in for any game.  Here’s a list of things that didn’t go through Tony LaRussa’s mind late in today’s game:

  • Cincinnati had already won, meaning that the Cardinals were already 1/2 game out of first place and in danger of dropping a full game back
  • Pujols and Holliday had already played 8 innings.  Were they really going to get a lot out of a one inning break?
  • These guys will make over $30 million combined this year.  I think they should have to put in a full day’s work.
  • And if they needed a break, then the skipper should have taken a look at the schedule, as the Cardinals have only two games in the next four days.
  • If any team should know that no lead is safe, it should be the Cardinals, who dropped a couple of heartbreakers to the Rockies on July 6th and July 7th.

Here’s a list of possible things that he was thinking about:

  • “Puppies!”
  • “Oh boy, I can’t wait to not eat some meat after the game.”
  • “Kitties!”
  • “Jim Hayes is lucky his nickname is ‘The Cat,’ or I would have killed him last week.”
  • Kitties AND puppies!?!?”

Now there’s no way to know what would have happened if Pujols and Holliday would’ve still been in the game, but I bet Cardinals fans sure wish they could have found out.  And knowing a thing or two about Albert Pujols, I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays every inning the rest of the season.

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