Former major league pitcher, Scott Bailes, once told all a manager has to do to be great is stay out of the way.
“A great manager is worth maybe 4 wins a year,” he said when I asked how important managers really are in the game of baseball. Most would agree that Tony La Russa is a great manager, but that doesn’t mean he won’t drive you crazy sometimes.
Sunday’s rubber game of the I-70 series was a perfect example of La Russa overthinking and over-managing his ballclub. The Cardinals jumped out to a seemingly insurmountable 6-1 lead in the top of the 5th, so Tony decided to protect the 5 run cushion with a defensive replacement for 2nd baseman Allen Craig. Craig walked, mashed a 2-run home run, and ripped a single right through Royals’ 1st baseman, Eric Hosmer. It was after that 5th inning single that Craig was lifted in favor of Tyler Greene. Greene eventually came around to score on an RBI fielder’s choice by Matt Holliday, who just so happened to be the next casualty to La Russa’s lineup shuffle.
La Russa felt Holliday might have aggravated his sore quad muscle, so he decided to “play it safe” and lift Holliday for backup catcher, Gerald Laird. Holliday was already the designated hitter, and could’ve easily stayed in the game, but La Russa yanked him anyway. Now at the time, this was probably the right move, but it’s tough to take two big bats out of the lineup in a matter of five minutes…even with a 7-1 lead.
In the bottom of the 5th, the writing on the wall became clear. With two outs and runners at the corners, Jaime Garcia induced what would’ve been an inning ending pop-up to short. But pop-up was dropped by… you guessed it… Tony’s defensive replacement, Tyler Greene. This was Greene’s second such drop of a pop up in a week, the first of which also came during a Jaime Garcia start. The Cardinals were still in control though with a 7-2 lead through five.
The biggest head scratcher was La Russa’s quick hook with Jaime Garcia in the 6th. Garcia had only thrown 84 pitches and still held a 7-3 lead after giving up a leadoff home run. Garcia is among the league leaders in innings pitched and typically goes deep into games, but pulling him with 12 outs to go seemed incredibly premature. Not surprisingly, the Royals exploited the Cardinals bullpen for 4 runs in the next 2 innings, tying the game up at 7.
You thought Tony was done making questionable moves? Think again. With 2 on and no outs in the Top of the 9th, Tony ordered Daniel Descalso to bunt the runners over. That’s all well and good, but you know what else moves the runners up? A Walk. Yet La Russa had Descalso lay down a sacrifice on a 3-0 pitch. 3-0! The move backfired, and the Cardinals limped into extra innings.
Fortunately for Cardinals fans, the only thing that can overcome inept managing is inept pitching, and that’s exactly what the Royals offered in the 10th. The Cardinals were able to plate two runs on a leadoff walk, an error, a hit batsman, and two more walks with the bases loaded.
The Cardinals were lucky to survive their manager and claim the first of two I-70 series this year. The rematch comes in mid-June back home at Busch.
The good news is: The Cardinals will again be the favorites to win the next installment of the series.
The bad news is: Tony is already salivating at the chance to out-smart and American League manager in a national league park.