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A window into La Russa's thinking

10/26/2011

ST. LOUIS -- The tale of the Cardinals' phone fiasco in Game 5 is now so fraught with seeming inconsistencies and illogical threads of thought that nothing Tony La Russa says, going forward, will ever satisfy 100 percent of the fans and media. There will always be questions that will be unanswered, or unanswerable, such as: How did bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist hear Lance Lynn's name when La Russa says he said "Motte"?

What happened in Game 5 will be the baseball version of the grassy knoll and the magic bullet, all wrapped into a half-inning. But La Russa walked into the interview room and waded patiently through questions Tuesday, answering them evenly and not defensively. His words will forever be parsed and cross-examined in an effort to get to a truth that is now unreachable. Here is a link to the complete transcript of La Russa's press briefing, for those who are the sort to find all the pages of the Warren Commission's report fascinating (like me).

Along the way, La Russa provided a window into how he thinks. Before he took a question from the roomful of reporters, he wanted to make something clear: He believes that Albert Pujols has an exceptional IQ and has earned the right to call a hit-and-run on his own, as he did in the seventh inning of Game 5. Pujols put the play on with Allen Craig leading off first and Alexi Ogando pitching, and Craig was thrown out easily, at a pivotal moment in the game.

La Russa said Pujols will mostly stop and tell him about his plans to put on a play before he walks to the play, but in this case, he did not. If he had, La Russa indicated, he would've told Pujols he disagreed with his assessment of the situation; Ogando is a hard thrower and not precise, which makes it difficult to put on a hit-and-run. But La Russa also made it clear that he had no problem with Pujols taking the initiative.

"It has everything to do with what Albert has earned as far as his understanding of the game," La Russa said. "... But I trust Albert, and he put it on yesterday."

Pujols' decision-making is really no different than a pitcher choosing to throw a pitch that runs counter to the team's scouting reports, or to the logic of the moment. In retrospect, Dennis Eckersley might look back and think that it would have been better to not allow a hobbled Kirk Gibson -- who was struggling to get to Eckersley's fastball -- a chance to speed up his bat and hit a breaking ball. But in the moment, Eckersley chose to throw a breaking ball, down and in, and Gibson dropped the head of his bat on the ball and clubbed a home run into history.

If Pujols's hit-and-run had been successful, he would be lauded as a baseball genius and La Russa would be given credit for allowing a player to read the game situation -- as Ian Kinsler did when he stole second base in the top of the ninth inning of Game 2, on his own.

Another interesting thing that came out of the press briefing was La Russa's view on some forms of gamesmanship. We've all seen managers find different ways to buy time to get a pitcher warmed up and ready -- whether picking a fight with an umpire, or having a pitcher fake an injury -- and in the bottom of the eighth inning, La Russa could have done that when he learned that Jason Motte was not throwing in his bullpen and would not be ready to pitch to Mike Napoli.

La Russa let the game play on, instead of creating a diversion.

"Umpires may not believe this," he explained Tuesday, "but never, ever in 30-some years have I ever used the umpire as an excuse for anything, whether it's getting a guy ready, more importantly whether it's to psych our club up because you think they're flat.

"I've never done it because I think it's ... embarrassing. Not only that, but they hold it against you if they don't think it's sincere. Fake an injury, I haven't done that, either. There's other ways that you can stall. You can send the catcher out there, you can step off 10 times, throw over to first base, I've done that."

"But a guy starting fresh" -- meaning, to get Motte fully warmed up while creating a diversion -- "... I don't think it was possible."

La Russa took the blame for the phone fiasco. The wrong guy is getting the blame, writes Bernie Miklasz.

La Russa should see the humor in what he's created, writes Bruce Jenkins. Ron Washington is winning the battle of wits with La Russa, writes Monte Poole.

Joel Sherman thought La Russa offered a lot of double-talk, and that there is a double standard for players and coaches.

Tom Kelly can empathize with La Russa, writes Jim Souhan.

• The weather forecast for today and tonight is terrible, and it's excellent for the next two days, so you do wonder whether Major League Baseball will move quickly to call off today's game and have excellent conditions for what figures to be a great finish to its crown-jewel event.

If the series goes to a Game 7, Chris Carpenter says he'll be ready.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. On Sunday afternoon, the policy of the Toronto Blue Jays organization was to allow any member of its organization to talk to another club about other jobs, and to leave without restriction. But by Tuesday afternoon, that had changed, in light of published suggestions that the Red Sox might want to hire manager John Farrell. A source explained that the change happened because the Blue Jays realized policy will always lead to rumors and speculation going forward. Ultimately they're a distraction and incredibly time-consuming. The old policy basically allowed there to be a rumor every time there's any opening in any organization. With this now in place, it can eliminate speculation before it even begins.

In short: The old policy was well-intentioned, and the new policy is more in line with the practical realities of this era of a 24-hour news cycle.

2. Theo Epstein was formally introduced in Chicago. He is unlikely to pursue either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols -- which was actually a decision the Cubs had settled on during the summer.

The savior has arrived, writes Rick Morrissey. The word "curse" is not in Epstein's vocabulary.

3. Ben Cherington was introduced as the Red Sox GM, and he knows the territory in Boston, writes Bob Ryan. He takes the reins, as Scott Lauber writes.

The Red Sox announced that John Lackey will miss next season -- which is a good thing.

4. The Yankees are formulating an offer for CC Sabathia, writes George King. The deadline for Sabathia to opt out of his contract -- 72 hours after the conclusion of the World Series -- is fast approaching.

5. Decision time is coming up for the Indians on Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona, writes Paul Hoynes. The guess here is that the Indians will decline the options, because for a team with a small budget, the risk-reward on the two players does not tilt in their favor. For the Yankees, or the Red Sox, picking up the options on the two players would be a no-brainer, but the Indians are in a different financial class and need to feel very good about their chances for a high rate of return on their investments.

6. The Athletics cut Michael Wuertz.

• The Rangers are one win away from winning the World Series, and know they have to play their game, as Jeff Wilson writes.

From ESPN Stats & Info, a look-ahead to Game 6:

In Game 2 of the World Series, Jaime Garcia followed the numbers with his changeup, throwing 15 to Rangers right-handed hitters. What differed for Garcia in the Game 2 start versus his previous starts was the location of his changeups. Seven of his 15 changeups to righties were up in the zone or above, resulting in three of his four outs with the pitch (strikeout, lineout, groundout).

The strategy of keeping his changeup up allowed Garcia to fool hitters with his other off-speed pitches down in the zone or below. Garcia threw 19 curveballs and sliders in Game 2, resulting in the Rangers going 0-for-7 with six strikeouts, all on pitches below the belt. In his four starts this postseason, opponents are 1-for-16 with 11 strikeouts in at-bats ending with a Garcia curveball or slider down in the zone or below.

In Game 6, Garcia will also need to find success attacking the inner third of the plate and beyond to the Rangers' heavily filled right-handed lineup. Garcia established the inner part of the plate in Game 2, throwing 35 pitches inside with just 13 in the zone. The Rangers struggled to get around on the pitch, going 0-for-10 with three strikeouts (righties were 0-for-9). Nelson Cruz, who had five home runs on inside pitches in the ALCS, went 0-for-2 with a pop out and fly out in Game 2. In his last nine starts, Garcia has been nearly unhittable when pitching inside, as opponents have gone 4-for-42 with 18 strikeouts.

What Garcia does not want to do in Game 6 is leave his fastball up, because chances are Mike Napoli will get a piece of it. In the regular season, Napoli led the majors with 12 home runs against fastballs up in the zone. That trend has continued in the postseason, as Napoli is hitting .412 (7-for-17), with all three of his home runs coming against fastballs up in the zone.

Garcia held Napoli hitless in two at-bats in Game 2 of the World Series. Napoli saw seven pitches against Garcia, but only one fastball, which was taken for a ball up and in.

Garcia has done a good job of keeping his pitches down in both the regular and postseason, but leaves his fastball up 40 percent of the time (as opposed the rest of his pitches, which he leaves up only 22 percent of the time).

From ESPN Stats & Info: Colby Lewis' premier pitch all season has been his slider, but he threw it 14 times in Game 2, which is tied for his fourth-fewest total this season, and down from his average of 25 sliders per game. But despite the 14 pitches, Lewis got five outs and four foul balls.

With the drop in slider usage, Lewis increased his fastball usage, throwing 64 percent in Game 2 (61 of 96 pitches), up from his average of 58 percent. The key for Lewis, if he keeps up with the fastball usage in Game 6, is to work the inner and outer thirds with the same success he had in Game 2. Fifty of Lewis' 61 fastballs were either on the outer third (34 pitches) or inner third (16 pitches), leading the Cardinals to go 1-for-10 with two strikeouts. Lewis will have to watch over-usage of his fastballs inside, as they've resulted in six extra-base hits, including four home runs, since Sept. 1.

The Cardinals have not been very good hitting fastballs inside as a team this postseason, hitting .223 with two home runs. Lewis will have to pick his spots, though, with David Freese and Albert Pujols. The two have combined to hit .423 (11-for-26) this postseason against fastballs inside.

For more information on the pitch locations to Napoli, Pujols and Rafael Furcal, as well the pitching location of Feliz, please refer to this Stats & Info blog piece from Mark Simon.

Lewis' long journey has paid off, writes Drew Davison.

Other stuff

Bill Plaschke wonders: Should Mike Scioscia catch some flak for getting rid of Napoli?

• Dave Eiland was hired by the Royals to be their pitching coach. The Yankees really valued his work when he was there. He has a goal for the starting pitchers, as Bob Dutton writes.

• Brian Cashman's extension will come soon.

• The Red Sox could bid on CC Sabathia, writes Anthony McCarron. It'd be interesting, but it's hard to imagine that happening, given that the organization's ownership is a little gun-shy about big free-agent deals right now.

• The D-backs' former scouting director deserves some credit for Arizona's success this year, writes Nick Piecoro.

• The Padres made some cuts.

• A Braves shortstop is quieting some skeptics.

• A former UW pitcher is rising through the Mariners' system, writes Geoff Baker.

Aroldis Chapman pitched an inning in the Arizona Fall League, as John Fay writes.

• A Dodgers reliever has a sore elbow.

• The Brewers' Chris Narveson had hip surgery.

• Donors keep reaching out with great auction items for our charity fundraiser, on BattingForVermont.com.

And today will be better than yesterday.