We give Tony LaRussa a pretty hard time here at Getting Blanked. Mostly because he’s a detestable despot with hubris for days. His record of success is pretty close to unmatched yet here we are, kicking him when he’s down.
Last night against the Dodgers, Tony LaRussa put on a “Being Tony LaRussa” clinic. He micromanaged his way into a loss, making the right move a few times too many.
Nature conspired against TLR’s best intentions in the 8th inning with a one-run lead. Matt Holliday had to come out of the game after a GD moth flew into his ear. Holliday had to leave the game as the LaRussa-directed brainbug came dislodged and he just needed to get the hell out of there.
With Holliday out, TLR went to his best outfield sub in Corey Patterson, inserting the Perfect Weapon into left field. Patterson promptly recorded the third out of the inning by squeezing a fly ball of the bat of Matt Kemp.
The bottom of the 8th inning begins and we get our first TLRing of the night – he leaves in his ace Chris Carpenter to hit for himself, leading off the bottom of the 8th with a strikeout. Defensible? Absolutely. Carp was rolling over the Dodgers bats to that point. But, in a one-run game, maybe trying for an insurance run isn’t a bad bit of strategy. The Cardinals did not score in the 8th, heading to 9th looking to close it out.
At this point, Tony goes switch crazy. He moves Skip Schumaker from second base to right field, sending Lance Berkman to the bench. Skip isn’t much of a second baseman and Berkman isn’t much a fielder at all, so this move isn’t awful in a vacuum but…
LaRussa then moves shortstop Daniel Descalso to second base, bringing in injured shortstop Rafael Furcal to play the 9th. This, as they say, is playing with fire. Furcal has an injured right thumb (thanks to a weird fall around the Wrigley Field batting cage), making throwing difficult due to the bandage Furcal wears on the field.
Chris Carpenter promptly throws this entire inning into chaos by plunking leadoff hitter Juan Rivera. TLR goes for the lefty-lefty matchup, bringing in ageless Arthur Rhodes to face Andre Ethier,. A good move as Rhodes strikes out the Dodgers right-fielder with four consecutive fastballs.
LaRussa now goes to his pen for closer Fernando Salas. Salas has decent numbers so this move is hard to fault. Aaron Miles ends up crushing a triple to deep right-center field, ruining all the fun. Now the game is tied with the go-ahead run on third base. With his closer on the mound, LaRussa can only do one thing: make a pitching change.
LaRussa brings in Jason Motte to face worrisome slugger Rod Barajas. Motte isn’t a bad reliever either but why? Is he better than Salas or, more importantly, what can he do that Salas cannot? Motte has marginally better ground ball numbers, I suppose. With that in mind, LaRussa brings his patchwork infield in.
Rod Barajas hits a hot shot just to the right of fresh-off-the-bench shortstop Rafael Furcal. Furcal cannot field the ball cleanly and then, in his haste to get the ball to the plate with his tweaked thumb, bounces his late throw to the plate. Run scored, Cardinals trail. A quick double play off the bat of Casey Blake and the Cardinals are up against it.
The injuries and switches result should have resulted in the meat of the order coming to the plate for the Cards in the bottom of the 9th. Instead, Albert Pujols is followed by Corey Patterson and Rafael Furcal. Once Pujols popped out…the Cardinals lost.
Popping off in hindsight is a lot easier than making decisions in the heat of the moment but sometimes less is more. A one-run lead can be undone quickly by a moth and a hit by pitch. The Fallacy of the Pre-determined Outcome means it isn’t as simple as saying “Descalso makes that play at short” but it seems to me that LaRussa and the Cardinals put all their eggs in one basket last night. Just as Viva El Birdos states in a recent post, a lot of these moves haven’t gone in favor of the Cardinals this season. Perhaps some of the Genius’s magic has worn off. Overthinking and outsmarting yourself has its downfalls.