Mouse takes Rook, Checkmate

One of the benefits of listening to Tony La Russa’s Sunday morning radio show is learning a bit about how one of baseball’s greatest tacticians approaches the game. More times than not, La Russa’s explanations show that he was indeed looking several innings ahead and making logical decisions.

That’s what makes the loss tonight so frustrating.  It seemed as if the skipper was thinking one move at a time.

Let me explain.

Cardinals starter, Chris Carpenter, pitched a gem of a game.   It may have been the best game he pitched all season.  Unfortunately, he did not receive any run support from the offense.  The lone tally came on a Lance Berkman solo home run.

The Cardinals took their 1-0 lead over the Dodgers into the ninth inning. With Arthur Rhodes warming up in the bullpen, Chris Carpenter takes the mound. Carpenter is under 100 pitches and it is a relatively pleasant night in St Louis. Carpenter did not look like he was laboring, but there was one complication – he got away with a hanging breaking ball to end the eighth inning.

As a result, it appeared that La Russa is going to leave Carpenter in the game until he gives up a base runner, at which point he will go to the pen. That really means Rhodes because he was up before Fernando Salas.  Said another way, Carpenter was really in to face one batter, who he put on base when he hit him with a pitch.

So why did Carpenter even come out to start the inning ?

In defense of Arthur Rhodes, he did retire the one batter he faced, Andre Ethier.

After the Rhodes strikeout, La Russa again went to his bullpen, for Fernando Salas. La Russa has expressed repeatedly that he likes to bring in his closer to start an inning, so they don’t have the added pressure of inherited base runners. So, doesn’t this mean that Salas should have been up instead of Rhodes, starting the ninth ?

If the answer to that question is yes, or even maybe, that makes what happens in the eighth inning even more bizarre. With just a one run lead, why let Chris Carpenter hit for himself to start the inning.  Just about every other player, including most of the pitchers, are a bigger offensive threat than Carpenter. That seems to be a very precious out to give up in a 1-0 game, especially if you are already hedging your bets against the complete game.

For a manager that has a well deserved reputation as a master strategist, out-thinking the competition, it felt like La Russa was making one decision at a time, reacting just to what was happening on the field.   Perhaps we have grown so accustom to his carefully architected game plans, that it is a shock when we see him manage as most others do.  Everybody, including the skipper, is allowed a bad outing.  Unfortunately for the Cardinals, this one couldn’t have come at a worse time.

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7 Responses to Mouse takes Rook, Checkmate

  1. Sometimes, even evil-geniuses out think themselves. Carpenter should have finished the game. Good post.


  2. Thanks William. Apparently, that’s what happened here. I think that he got target fixation on Andre Ethier and missed the bigger picture. I’m fine with Carpenter finishing, or being lifted for the pinch hitter. Of the two, I think I would have preferred him being lifted for Allen Craig in the eighth, trying to get some insurance runs.

    A frustrating loss on a night when we so desperately needed a win.


  3. Cardinal70 says:

    Good stuff as always. However, might I suggest “Moth” as your animal of choice for the headline? 🙂

    It may be that some of the reason TLR loyalists (and I consider myself in that group, or did) are so frustrated this year is that he’s not necessarily managing the way he has in the past, but more like making moves to make moves.


    • Thanks Daniel. The moth is indeed the story of the game. Have you ever seen anything like that before ?

      If it had been anybody other than Aaron Miles that got the big hit, I’d have gone that direction. I can’t wait for Dennis over at Pitchers Hit Eighth to chime in. I think we’re all going to get a good laugh from that.


      • Cardinal70 says:

        Never anything like that before. Games stopped because of moths/bees/whatever, sure. But a player literally having an injury bug? Someone needs to write a season review with that as the prevailing metaphor!


  4. Ray DeRousse says:

    “Master strategist”??? Are you kidding? How can you praise someone as being a manager who looks several moves ahead when he burns his bullpen every year to the point that he has to sacrifice starters? Or repeatedly takes out crucial members of the offense late for “defensive purposes” (why aren’t they good enough in the first place?) only to have the strategy blow up in his face time and time again?

    Last night was not a “bad night” or even a symptom of this year. He has always managed like this, and it doesn’t ever work. That’s why the guy ranks only 61st in winning percentage. He sucks.


  5. Mark says:


    First-rate analysis of one of the most numbing endings to a game in a season full of numbing Cardinals endings. Makes me wonder whether it would have made a difference had Dave Duncan been by Tony’s side. Without Duncan there to calm him down, I suspect Tony was way out of sorts.


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