Hello again everyone! Happy Fall! The weather here in Michigan has decided to celebrate by dropping 25 degrees from yesterday to today. And I missed a chance to go out and (mis)hit some golf balls yesterday. Darn!
Speaking of missed opportunities, Tony LaGenius and his not-so-merry band of Cardinals missed a golden opportunity to really turn up the heat on the Braves yesterday. And I wanted to take a chance to thank him for the way he did it yesterday. In cased you missed it, it seems that Tony was channeling his inner Bobby Cox/Tony LaRussa “burn out the bullpen” persona, and in a way that was kind of fun to watch (in the same way that watching cars crash at the end of police chase videos is fun, if you know what I mean!).
In case you somehow missed it, the Cardinals took a 6-2 lead into the ninth inning yesterday against the Mets. To say that things looked bleak as a Braves fan was an understatement. With what looked like a sure win locked in place, the Cardinals would only be one back of the reeling Braves and sporting a five game winning streak. But, as often happens in the game, the baseball gods had other ideas. The Mets scored six times in the ninth and went on to win the game 8-6.
While even on its surface this was great news for Braves fans, the background leading up to the implosion and the clubhouse comments afterward are potentially even more rewarding. You see, as was often the case with Bobby Cox and has shown to also be the case with Fredi Gonzalez, LaGenius, ah, I mean LaRussa, has a tendency to burn up his key relievers down the stretch. But I honestly was taken aback by just how brutal LaRussa’s handling of his key relievers has been during the Cardinals’ push to catch the Braves.
Jason Motte, who more often than not is the Cardinals’ closer nowadays, was called on to pitch the ninth. This was his ninth appearance in the last fourteen days. He was tagged for four of the Mets runs. LaRussa then called on Marc Rzepczynski to put out the fire. This was also his ninth appearance in the last 14 days. He gave up a single to the only batter he faced. Then LaRussa called on Fernando Salas, who promptly gave up a two-run double followed by a two-run single. By the way, this was Salas’ fifth appearance in the last seven days; see a pattern developing here?
In fairness to LaRussa, he was in a real box Thursday, even if it was one he was busy building the past ten days. Basically, he had to either turn the game over to his “B Team” relievers, or else use his first tier guys who all had to be dog-tired. It says a lot, I think, about LaRussa’s confidence in his other relievers that he didn’t feel comfortable turning over even a five run lead to them. If not then, when would you ever use them?
The quotes after the game were telling as well. Effectively, LaRussa told the press that Motte wasn’t tired, he just lost his focus because he was concerned over whether he was the closer or not. At least that’s the way I would interpret his quote (taken from MLB.com): ”He may be getting distracted by somebody thinking he’s the closer. He should keep his fine focus on, just pitch as good as I can…”.
Motte, for his part, wouldn’t directly call out his skipper, but he wouldn’t defend him, or even say that he wasn’t tired. Again, taken from MLB.com, Motte had this to say when asked if he could have used a day of rest: ”The phone rang, I pitched, I felt fine,” he said. “I’ll take the ball, whenever. I’ll go out there and I’ll throw. It’s just one of those things. It’s not really my call. I’ll go out there and throw.”
I think it’s telling that LaRussa is reverting to old form in calling out his players in the press. And I can almost see Motte biting his tongue in his response, as if he’s “this close” to really telling you what he thinks. I mean, this was a perfect opportunity for LaRussa to calm the waters and focus everyone on the fact that the team is playing really well and that they are still only two games out. But LaRussa couldn’t do it. To me, this is a key difference between Cox and LaRussa, and it’s one that you can’t easily see when one takes a cursory look at the numbers the two managers have put up. You can/could tell it, though, when players were asked their preference in managers to play for.
In any case, I think this portends good things for the Braves for the rest of the season. Paraphrasing Al Davis (and with a nod to Fred Owens post today), “Just win, Braves”. And I thank Tony LaRussa for his part in making this possible. What do you think?