Think Different: 2011 World Series, Tied at 1

I have learned, from listening to the population at large, that two people are to blame for every negative thing in the world that has ever, and will ever occur: Former President, George W. Bush and Cardinals manager, Tony LaRussa.
I don’t technically count this as using the death of Steve Jobs to increase traffic. Technically.
Following Thursday night’s game, I got a text message from a friend. This is a friend who I respect, who used to work for a local radio sports station, and a man whom I sometimes consider to be the proud owner of one of the more open minds I know, when it comes to sports. I submit that he’s not quite as open-minded as he thinks (a parallel I’ll draw between him & high-maintenance girlfriends later). He’s a self-proclaimed “Players play kind of guy”, more so than a LaRussa lover or hater. You know the type, “Hey, man, hitters hit. Pitchers pitch.” If you’re reading this, and are a Cardinals fan, then you’re probably already well aware that those fans who have feelings towards LaRussa, and there are only two flavors available: Love or Hate. More likely are you to find Santa Claus, holding a four-leaf clover on the back of a unicorn than find a Cardinals fan who is “middle-of-the-road” when it comes to opinions on TLR. Anyway, about that brief exchange of text messages…
Him: Thanks for taking the bat outta Freese hands and now we’re tied.
Him: I’m glad we don’t have Berkman or Freese
Me: Yep. TLR’s fault.
Him: Thank you
Me: That was sarcasm, [creative expletive]
Me: Pretty sweet how he gets no credit for bringing a team from the brink of elimination to a World Series, but a double-switch doesn’t pan out & we’re crucifying him again.
This is the same buddy with whom I was at a game in 2009 when the Giants came to town. As we sat in our right field seats, Trever Miller came in with one out in the 7th to put out a fire. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Miller struck out the two he faced in the 7th, and came back out in the 8th, striking out the first two batters he faced, before being lifted. I forget now who it was, but a righty was brought in to face Andres Torres.

Him: See, that’s what I’m talking about. Right there. Why wouldn’t you leave Miller in?
Me: What are Torres’ career numbers against Miller?
Him: I don’t know.
Me: Is he 13-16 lifetime with 8 doubles?
Him: I have no idea.
Me: Do you think LaRussa & Duncan know?

Some consider me a LaRussa honk. For what it’s worth, I don’t consider myself to be one. I don’t agree with everything he does, sometimes downright despise a move he decides to make. But, by no means does the man have a blank check from me for a ringing endorsement on anything & everything he does. 95% of the time, when it comes to what my friends describe as me “defending LaRussa”, all I’m actually doing is trying to make one point. The same point I always try to make. Here’s how it usually sounds, “I’m not defending or attacking him for what he did or didn’t do. I’m not saying it was a great move or a terrible move. (Usually, I give my opinion as to which, if either) All I’m saying is: Don’t you think Tony probably has access to more information about the situation than you or I do? Details that probably played into his decision right there?” It’s really not much more than being an advocate of information. The same can be said for any manager in any game, even Dusty Baker, for whom I do not much care, to put it lightly.

David Freese’s defensive miscue in the 1st inning of game one (Kinsler’s single)
But the knee-jerk reaction in this fan base, or at least the portion of it that comprise most TLR-haters, is to find the portion of the loss that can be blamed squarely on the manager, usually ignoring several other important factors while doing so. Another friend of mind posted this as his facebook status earlier this year, following the Cardinals Opening Day loss to the Padres.
‘Welp, Franklin blew it in the 9th with 2 outs…’Which is not a false statement. Technically.

It’s true, Ryan Franklin did earn a blown save that day. But my friend’s point was that Franklin couldn’t be trusted to close games…etc, etc. (Something that, granted, we would later learn to be a fact.) However, more than an incredible superhuman ability to prognosticate about future events, it was his intent to point at his chosen scapegoat as the reason for the Cardinals loss. What was conveniently not referred to by my friend (or in the 15 subsequent comments) were Albert Pujols trio of double-plays he hit into that day (nothing like turning a 9-inning game into 7), a ball that Yadi threw down to nail Ludwick by 8 feet as he tried to steal second and Theriot let him kick the ball out of his glove, or a handful of other plays that turned out to be difference-makers.

My point in these two examples is that too often, casual fans (even the ones who are casual fans, but consider themsevles hardcore) look at one instance, one event, one matchup or blown call…etc, and hang the entire game’s outcome on it. Those are the fans that I have the hardest time relating to. You know the worst type of high-maintenance girlfriend? Not the one who is high-maintenance and knows it, oh no. It’s the one who is high-maintenance, but thinks she is low-maintenance. Casual fans who “consider themselves” baseball experts are just as bad. I’m not claiming to be some elitist who is, in some way a better fan, or a smarter baseball guy than the next person. I am well aware of my lack of knowledge in certain aspects, and where my understanding falls short in areas of this game. I know enough to understand that I don’t know it all.

I said all that to say this: Please understand, my fellow fans, that it is rare–and I mean RARE–that the outcome of a baseball game lies in one single play, call, or decision. Just like winning as a team and losing as a team, those wins and losses come after thousands of situations have unfolded in an unlimited number of possible outcomes.

Manager brings in stud closer.
Stud closer doesn’t have his stuff that night.

Manager pinch-hits for cleanup hitter with a bench guy.
Cleanup hitter has a 103 temperature.
Bench guy hits a mistake into the corner for a 2-run double.

Bullpen has two lefties
One lefty was up all night with his newborn, and is going on 30 minutes sleep
Manager uses the other instead, fans outraged over “idiotic move”.

David Freese’s defensive miscue in the 2nd inning of game one (Beltre’s double)

Etc, etc, etc.

So, let me go back to the beginning. My “players play” buddy was so anxious to hang the loss on his predetermined scapegoat that he ignored several other important factors. The Cardinals loss in game 2 couldn’t have possibly been because the Cards were simply unable to produce runs, again due to a guy named Colby’s performance. Though, this time it would be the offense that couldn’t score a single run off pitcher, Colby Lewis. The incredible defense up the middle for Texas that made a couple of huge, highlight-reel plays to turn a mind-blowing double-play, and end a threat in the 5th was surely no factor. Nick Punto’s inability to lay down a freaking bunt in the 9th bore no impact on the game’s outcome. Just like Motte’s trouble with command was nothing much more than a footnote. Jay’s throw, Pujols’ cutoff, the list goes on and on. But, double-switching to “take the bat out of the hands of” Berkman (whose spot in the lineup wasn’t scheduled to come around again), and Freese (who may or may not have gotten a hit to continue that 8th inning), that was the game-losing, back-breaking, single move that is solely responsible for the Cards game 2 loss.And as far as the whole Descalso-for-Freese late thing goes, don’t get me started on that either. If you watched the same first & second innings of game 1 that I did, you aren’t quite as sold on the glove of David Freese as you once were. Ask Esteban German what he thinks about Descalso, or Chambers, or a couple of the other late-inning subs, who get into the game to get just enough of a taste of playing in a big game, so that if called upon they don’t choke.

Esteban German pinch hits with two outs in a one-run game in the 7th inning of Game 1 of the 2011 World Series, after not playing in a game since September 25th. He strikes out on three pitches: Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Goodnight.
It probably sounds like I’m venting and ranting to counterpoint the things my friend said, and on a micro level, there may be some truth to that. But on a macro level, I’m talking to all of us, myself included. Thursday night’s game had so many other things that contributed to the Cardinals loss, including, astonishingly enough, a great game played by the Texas Rangers-let’s not ignore that “minor detail”. It’s so easy to focus so much on your team’s loss that you can forget that there was another team on the field, trying to win the game also. Give credit where it’s due–they aren’t back-to-back American League champs without good reason. And even then, by now you’ve surely read or heard Ron Washington’s comments, “I don’t think I can win a chess match against Tony.”
All I’m saying is that I’d ask you to elevate your game, and try to take your fan IQ to the next level. I know you’ve got it in you, heck, you’re smart enough to be on, aren’t you? You know this fan. Heck, maybe you ARE this fan. You already know, even as you read this, even before game 3 is ever played, that the Cardinals next loss is because of Tony LaRussa. Conversely, their next win is in spite of him. I get that different people looking at the same game are going to see different things, I’m not so obtuse as to miss that. I would merely challenge you to consider the possibility that there are different reasons behind decisions and/or results than those you may have already primed in your mind. Hey, we all blamed Ryan Franklin for a lot of things earlier this year, and a lot of times he deserved it. But not every time. A couple of hitters do their job in the 4th inning of this game, or a defensive play made behind the starter in the 6th inning of that game, and suddenly Franklin giving up one run isn’t a game-losing ordeal. Just sayin’. So next time a game ends, try to look at it from angles different from those you normally would. You might be surprised how many new thoughts, ideas, and perspectives you come up with on your own….and stop blaming Bush & LaRussa for everything.

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