An Almost Perfect Night

Friday night before their game against the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals retired former manager Tony La Russa’s number 10 in a ceremony on the field that included all the expected fanfare. Unfortunately the Cards couldn’t cap off the night with a victory, losing the game in disappointing fashion in 12 innings.

The 25+ minute fete of La Russa featured names and faces spanning his better than three decade career. On- and off-the-field representatives from the White Sox, A’s, and Cardinals were on hand to see their former skipper honored. Jerry Reinsdorf, Tom Seaver, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Walt Jocketty, Matt Morris, and Jim Edmonds were just a few of the special guests seated in the infield at Busch Stadium while Master of Ceremonies Mike Shannon took to the podium set up near home plate. Of course all of the current Cardinals were in the dugout, and some—like Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and manager Mike Matheny—sat in the seats on the field. After a few short speeches, a couple of good laughs, and a video montage, members of Team Fredbird unveiled the new image of La Russa next to a huge “10” as the newest addition to the retired numbers mural along the left field wall. It was a fitting tribute to the man who presided over one of the most successful periods of baseball in the history of the franchise.

But even La Russa pushed to get the game going, promising to keep his speech short and acknowledging that the crowd was really there to see the Cards and Braves play. Unfortunately, nothing went right for the Cardinals early in the contest. After two passed balls in the first inning, the Braves led 2-0. By the end of the third, it was 5-0. The Cardinals battled back to take the lead 6-5 in the 5th inning, but they would only score one more run the rest of the night. Tied at seven, the game went into extra innings and a Jayson Heyward two-run homer capped off the scoring.

Friday night certainly had a little bit of everything: the return of La Russa to Busch Stadium; the illustrious group attending his ceremony; a long standing ovation for Chipper Jones, who is likely playing his last series at Busch; a big lead for the opposition; a comeback to take the lead from them; a Jaime Garcia meltdown that he was able to rein in; several lead changes; Skip Schumaker trying to be extra scrappy due to the presence of David Eckstein by diving head-first into first base for a hit; extra innings; Carlos Beltran finishing a single short of hitting for the cycle (and even taking a walk in the 11th); great weather, etc. etc.

But the loss was particularly disappointing because the Cards once again had runners on second or third—or second and third…and first—numerous times and the Cardinals failed to capitalize. The comeback from being down 5-0 early is great. But the Cards’ RISP numbers are not great, and they have to figure out a way to get guys in once they get on.

The Cardinals did not come out with a victory, but they did but on quite a show for La Russa. And if nothing else, that and Beltran’s performance were definitely the plays of the night. Perhaps, as the Cards’ former manager rides off into the sunset, they could take a page from La Russa’s notebook and get back to playing a hard nine or 12 or whatever it takes to finish and get out of this RISP funk. Just keep that pitcher batting ninth or Matheny may have a fan mutiny on his hands.

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