For baseball's great overmanaging artist, this was his Mona Lisa
Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa just can't help himself from overmanaging
St. Louis lost a 20-inning game against the Mets on Saturday night
It was an overmanaging thing of beauty that featured two position players pitching
I must admit: I do get a kick out of overmanaging. Sure, mostly it's like a kick to the sternum... but there's something utterly human about overmanaging that I can appreciate. A baseball manager has so little he can CONTROL on a baseball diamond. He can't design a play -- hit and runs and wheel plays don't satisfy. He can't make halftime adjustments. He can't substitute players in-and-out or change up his lines. You don't think about this much -- or I don't -- but perhaps the biggest thing is that a baseball manager can't even put his best player in position to make the big play. In basketball, you get LeBron to take the last-second shot. In football, you have Tom Brady throw to Wes Welker on fourth down. In baseball, sure, you can put in your closer. But you can't just send Albert Pujols up there with the winning run on third base. And even if you DO happen to be at Pujols place in the lineup, they will walk him.
It's just a whole different type of game, and I think overmanaging really is a natural reaction to the frustrations of the job. Tony La Russa has been managing baseball games for more than 30 years -- he has managed almost 5,000 games in his career. And even now, he HAS to use the most pinch-hitters, and he HAS to change around his lineup, and he HAS to use a lot of relievers, and he HAS to move runners, and he HAS to sacrifice. It's his nature. He has to attack the game before it attacks him. Why? I think it's because he knows the limitations of the job. And he can't help but rage against them.
With that in mind, the box score and play-by-play from his 20-inning managerial performance against the Mets on Saturday should replace La Russa's plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was an overmanaging thing of beauty.
BOTTOM OF THE 7TH INNING: Game scoreless. Leadoff single -- La Russa has Brendan Ryan sacrifice bunt. One of three sacrifice bunts for La Russa's team, none by pitchers. The next two batters strike out.
TOP OF THE 8TH INNING: La Russa employs his own patented triple-switch -- bringing in a reliever to replace the third baseman, moving the shortstop to third and bringing in a new shortstop to replace the pitcher.
TOP OF THE 11TH INNING: A mere double-switch -- but in this one La Russa pulls Matt Holliday from the game. This will come back to haunt more than once.
TOP OF THE 12TH INNING: La Russa brings in reliever Jason Motte with one out and nobody on base -- nobody seems entirely sure why. The reliever is batting fourth because, of course, Holliday is out of the game.
BOTTOM OF THE 12TH INNING: Still scoreless. Motte comes up with the bases loaded and two outs (after an intentional walk to Pujols)... because Holliday is out of the game. Motte strikes out.
TOP OF THE 13TH INNING: La Russa brings in reliever Dennys Reyes with two outs and a man on first.
TOP OF THE 14TH INNING: La Russa takes Reyes out and brings in reliever Blake Hawksworth into the game with two outs and nobody on.
BOTTOM OF THE 14TH INNING: Still scoreless. Hawksworth comes up with the bases and two outs (after another intentional walk to Pujols)... because Holliday is out of the game. Hawksworth strikes out.
BOTTOM OF THE 16TH INNING: Runners on first and second, one out, Hawksworth comes up again... this time La Russa cannot stand it and pinch hits Bryan Anderson, a 23-year-old rookie whose position on Baseball Reference is "pinch hitter" because he has not played a game in the field yet. He promptly hits into a double play. La Russa has no choice now but to go with his closer, Ryan Franklin and hope for the best.
BOTTOM OF THE 17TH INNING: Yadier Molina hits a deep fly ball. This is only worth noting because, as many moves as La Russa will make in his titanic effort to win... he will keep Molina behind the plate for all 20 innings. Best I can tell, the catchers since 1920 to play a whole game that lasted at least 20 innings include:
Carlton Fisk, 1984, 25 innings against Milwaukee
*It should be noted that in this game, all eight position players for both teams played the 22 innings.. and losing pitcher Bob Smith pitched 22 innings.
**Casanova also had a 19-inning game behind the plate that year -- give Casanova some love!
There are probably others, but these are the ones I could find.
TOP OF THE 18TH INNING: Franklin has pitched one scoreless inning... and apparently can't go anymore. So La Russa does a quintuple switch. This has to be a record, even for him.
He moves Felipe Lopez from third base to pitcher. (La Russa is out of pitchers.)
Lopez is pretty effective... or the Mets are pretty dismal. Or both. He allows only one walk while retiring the side. Little does anyone know that Lopez is on a pitch count.
TOP OF THE 19TH INNING: Because Lopez is on a pitch count, he moves to third base... and Mather comes in to pitch. It is clear that at this point, La Russa is just flailing against the wind. Mather walks the leadoff man. There's a sacrifice hit. La Russa orders an intentional walk of David Wright, which seemed pretty bold considering the guy on the mound is not a pitcher. La Russa simply cannot help himself. Mather then hits Jason Bay. He then allows a sac fly to Jeff Francoeur. La Russa then orders ANOTHER intentional walk, this time of Henry Blanco. It's an overmanaging thing of beauty. And this time it works -- Mather gets out the next batter, pitcher Raul Valdes, to end the inning.
BOTTOM OF THE 19TH INNING: And, in this over-managing masterpiece, here's Mona Lisa's smile... Ludwick leads off with a walk against Francisco Rodriguez (yes, the Mets still had their closer available). This brings up Pujols. There's no way that La Russa can overmanage this situation... so he overmanages this situation. He calls for the hit and run. Yes, the hit and run, with Albert Pujols at the plate. Now, remember, Albert Pujols is the best hitter in baseball. La Russa has the pitcher's spot coming up next. It's the bottom of the 19th inning, and he has no pitchers available, and he has a utility man pitching. The hit and run. To the very end, the man can't help himself.
Of course Pujols misses the pitch. Of course Ludwick is thrown out stealing -- though it is close, and Ludwick makes a lousy slide. Of course Pujols promptly bangs a double and later comes around to score what would have been the winning run rather than the tying run. Of course.
20TH INNING: Mather gives up another run. And the Cardinals get runners on first and second... but lose when Ludwick grounds out to end the game.
When it ended, there were many ready to rip Tony La Russa... and that's fair. But to me that game was vintage La Russa. He has never apologized for the overwhelming way he manages baseball games. He never will. He tries to win, all-out, all the time. Hit and run. Pull the pitcher. Send in a pinch-hitter. When you manage baseball games that way, like a heavyweight boxer throwing haymakers, you win some and you lose some, and you make a lot of people angry. But one thing is for sure: You never go to sleep wishing you had tried harder.
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