La Russa dials up wrong numbers
Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 7:01 pm
By JAIME ARON
AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Tony La Russa has won a lot of games over a lot of years by deploying relief pitchers differently than most managers. His reputation may have worked against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the World Series.
Well, that and baseball’s reliance on the 1900s technology of wall phones in bullpens even though they’re apparently easily drowned out by raucous fans.
Bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist misunderstood La Russa twice with the game on the line, forcing the Cardinals into an unfavorable matchup between left-handed reliever Mark Rzepczynski and Texas’ right-handed slugger Mike Napoli with one out and the bases loaded. The Rangers’ catcher took advantage by nailing a two-run double that gave Texas a 4-2 victory Monday night and put them one win from the franchise’s first championship.
“That phone in a loud ballpark, it’s not an unusual problem,” La Russa said. “I mean, it doesn’t make it right, but … “
The bottom of the eighth inning was a comedy of errors for St. Louis. It played out like something from the “Can you hear me now?” cell phone commercials.
It started with Lilliquist only having Rzepczynski warm up, when La Russa really wanted both him and right-handed closer Jason Motte to get loose.
La Russa realized the problem once he put in Rzepczynski and saw no one else warming up, so he called back and ask for Motte again. This time, Lilliquist told Lance Lynn to start throwing, even though he was only supposed to be used in an emergency.
La Russa also said the noise problem is not unusual with bullpens “that are right amidst the fans and excitement.” The visitors’ bullpen at Rangers Ballpark is in left-center field, with fans on either side.
“Maybe we need to come up with some ear mikes or something,” La Russa said.
Considering all the technology available these days, there’s got to be a better way to do this — right?
“Yeah, smoke signals from the dugout,” La Russa said. “There are times, like what happened in Philadelphia (during the first round of the playoffs). The phone went out, and so we used cell phones. And then the Phillies brought down walkie talkies, and they fixed the phone.”
The eighth inning began falling apart for St. Louis when Octavio Dotel took over for starter Chris Carpenter and gave up a leadoff double.
An intentional walk followed, then with one out, Rzepczynski came in for a lefty-lefty matchup with David Murphy. Texas could’ve gone to a right-handed hitter, but stuck with Murphy. He hit a comebacker that could’ve started a double play. Instead, it ricocheted off Rzepczynski’s leg to second baseman Nick Punto, loading the bases.
“He made a great pitch, but it happens,” La Russa said. “Sometimes it happens for us, today it happened against us.”
Rzepczynski said he wasn’t surprised to remain in to face Napoli because there was a lefty on deck, Mitch Moreland.
“I’ve done that all year, where if there’s a righty in between, I’m going to go out there and get the chance to get the righty out,” Rzepczynski said.
La Russa added that he didn’t think it was a matchup doomed to fail.
“We had a chance with Rzepczynski’s stuff to get Napoli on the first pitch,” La Russa said. “And then he put a nice swing on a breaking ball.”
Napoli drove a pitch into the wall in right-center field on one hop. Rzepczynski struck out Moreland, then La Russa went to the mound and tried bringing in Motte. Only he hadn’t warmed up yet. So when he called for the righty, in came Lynn.
“I said, ‘Why are you here?”’ La Russa said.
Published in The Messenger 10.25.11