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.