The (Mis)Management Of The World Series
As my consuming, blood-spitting disgust over last night’s loss spilled into the morning, a friend tried to comfort me. “Even if we lose the Series, they still had a good run. It’s not meaningless,” he said. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I don’t care about losing to the Rangers. They’re a good team. I just don’t want to lose like a bunch of punks.”
And that’s the really shameful part of last night’s grotesque and inexplicable late-inning catastrophe – the Cardinals, after riding a wave of magic onto the grandest stage imaginable, might lose this Series and become a footnote simply because the management of the team is bewilderingly incompetent.
No, I don’t like Tony LaRussa. I will toss dark veils over my lampshades the day he enters the Hall of Fame simply because he outlived every other manager in his sport. His bizarre mistrust of some staff members, coupled with his unconditional trust of others, creates a toxic atmosphere of paranoia, lies, and finger-pointing. Last night’s embarrassment, displayed on national television in the year’s biggest game for the delight of the media like a Roman gladiatorial contest, epitomizes the very worst and most unacceptable traits of TLR and Cardinal management.
Let’s look at some:
PUJOLS AS MANAGER: The seventh inning foretold the disaster to come, when Allen Craig, standing on first base, suddenly took off for second base with Albert Pujols taking a high ball. Cameras caught TLR’s shocked expression in the dugout; he clearly didn’t call the play. After grilling Craig afterwards, it became clear – Pujols had called the play himself, signaling to third base coach Jose Oquendo to tell Craig to run.
Since when does any player – even the GREATEST player – call his own plays from home plate?!?
When TLR discovered that his little pet Pujols had taken the initiative, he quickly came to his defense when the shocked press asked him about it. “I’m not here to bury anybody,” said TLR cryptically, “and I have no comment about that.”
Can Daniel Descalso call his own plays? How about Nick Punto? Or Jon Jay? I imagine that, if one of those guys pulled a cocky, out-of-line stunt like that, they’d be sent so far into Siberia that they’d need liquid nitrogen to defrost the ice on their dicks. But Pujols – the ultimate coach’s son – is allowed to take unlimited and unacceptable risks of his own making. Atrocious.
CALLING ALL ARMS: Let’s imagine that the fanciful story TLR told after the game about the bullpen phones is true – he asked for Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte to start warming up, and bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist didn’t hear him because of crowd noise. Instead, Lilliquist warmed up Rzepczynski and Lance Lynn.
So after Octavio Dotel surrendered a double and then intentionally walked righty Nelson Cruz (despite Dotel having excellent strikeout numbers), TLR rightfully chose lefthander Zeppo to face the lefty pinch hitter David Murphy. But then he left Zeppo in to face right-handed power hitter Mike Napoli. Remember, TLR thinks Motte is warming in the bullpen (he’s wrong; it’s Lynn), so leaving Zeppo in there against Napoli makes absolutely no sense. And Napoli did exactly what 100+ years of baseball history suggests he would – he ripped a double to score the final two game-winning runs.
IN THE LOOP: The larger question of responsibility shows up in Lilliquist’s warming of Lynn in that frame – didn’t Lilliquist know that Lynn was put on a two-day shutdown by Dave Duncan and TLR??
The answer is no. Duncan said that he “didn’t tell Lilliquist” that Lynn was being shut down! HUH?!? One of the senior members of the coaching staff doesn’t know about a major pitching plan for the fifth game of the World Series? The fabled, Yoda-like pitching coach doesn’t bother to tell his staff about this strategy during the most important series of the year?? Really??
I’m confused. You see, I KNEW about Lynn being unavailable by reading the fucking newspaper! And I’m not a well-paid staff member of the St. Louis Cardinals standing around in the bullpen at Arlington at the World Series!! How does any of this make any sense at all??? Where is the accountability for this shocking and unacceptable behavior??
MORE TLR IDIOCY: With the Cardinals down 4-2 in the top of the ninth, Allen Craig is beaned by a wild Neftali Feliz to start the frame. Feliz has, in fact, been wild throughout the entire series. That brings up Albert Pujols as the game’s potential tying run. Behind him lurks a slumping Matt Holliday and a dangerous Lance Berkman.
Rangers skipper Ron Washington decides to carefully pitch to Pujols; in truth, Pujols wasn’t going to see many pitches to hit. So OF COURSE TLR decides to hit-and-run on a 3-1 count; Craig takes off and Pujols fouls off the pitch (probably a ball) in order to protect Craig.
Running Craig here is dumb, of course, because Pujols is forced to swing at unfavorable pitches in order to protect the runner. Also, Pujols would need to try and hit the ball to the opposite field, something he’s only managed 8 times this year in all of his at bats (including outs); by contrast, Pujols had 37 homers. In other words, the odds were better if you let Pujols either swing at his own pitch or walk.
But Pujols fouled off the first attempt, rescuing TLR from his own stupidity. SO TLR CALLS FOR IT AGAIN. This time the “plan” fails spectacularly, with Pujols swinging at an obvious ball to strike out, while Craig is nailed (again) at second base. TWO OUTS, BASES EMPTY. There is only one thing to say: LaGenius.
Like most Cardinal fans, I have been overwhelmingly shocked and happily surprised by our October miracle. We made it into the most sought-after spot in baseball, as one of the two best teams competing in the World Series. It is an indescribable blessing, a gift from the baseball gods.
That’s why it’s imperative to not waste this opportunity. And by “not waste this opportunity,” I don’t mean they must win the Series. It would be nice, of course, but it’s not necessary. The Rangers have a classy, excellent team that deserves to win. Losing to them would be fine given everything the Cardinals have overcome just to compete against them.
But it is unacceptable to lose games in the manner they did last night. It’s an embarrassment to the franchise, as well as the legacy of this remarkable team that beat so many odds to make it this far. To that end, I hold TLR and his staff personally accountable for last night’s ridiculous and shameful loss. These men are put in charge of handling their responsibilities properly, and they completely failed.
This is not a random series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in April. This is the WORLD SERIES. It’s supposed to be a contest between professionals at the top of their game. That includes a coaching staff who should be working in unison. TLR, Duncan, and the rest of the staff blew last night’s game due to a lack of professionalism and a failure to communicate. They have affected too many losses to number, and far too many for people who are not actually playing the game.
This team is going to go home humiliated, a flat, wet footnote, because the coaching staff of the Cardinals is incompetent, arrogant, and unprofessional. And that will never be okay with me.