Texas Rangers: Tony La Russa

Former manager Tony La Russa joined First Take to discuss Josh Hamilton, and what might his future be as he enters free agency after this season:

How do you look at Josh Hamilton as a free agent? Can he be trusted to deliver consistently?

La Russa: The best judges are the team that's had him most recently. Ron Washington ... they watch him every day, and you learn a lot every day watching the ups and downs. ... There are some questions (Hamilton) is going to have to overcome.

"My two cents, for what it's worth, if I'm an executive, whether it's Josh or whether it's Albert (Pujols) last year, I don't know I would risk more than five, six years on anybody. I just think it's one of the dangers in our game when an organization is pushed beyond something -- five or six is a big commitment. When you go longer, I think it's scary and dangerous."

Ron Washington looks forward to ASG vs. Tony La Russa

January, 25, 2012
Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that Tony La Russa will come out of retirement to manage the National League All-Stars in the 2012 All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. That news pleased Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, who will manage the AL team for the second consecutive season.

"He deserved to be the manager of the All-Star Game. He won the World Series," Washington said Tuesday. "It's nice that baseball reached out to him to make sure he had the opportunity to do that and I'm glad Tony accepted."

La Russa will be the second retired manager to coach an All-Star team. John McGraw, a Hall of Famer, retired after the 1932 season and managed the All-Star Game in 1933. Washington, though, is just focused on trying to win the game. The NL defeated Washington's AL squad last year, giving St. Louis the homefield advantage over the Rangers in the World Series in 2011 (a loss by the AL in 2010 also gave the San Francisco Giants homefield advantage over Texas in the 2010 Fall Classic).

"I’m looking forward to managing that game again," Washington said. "I'd like another shot at beating the NL team. Hopefully, we can come away with a win this time."

Some good news for Washington: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, two of the top hitters in the game, are now in the AL. And it was Fielder's home run (off former Ranger C.J. Wilson) that helped the NL win the game last year (Fielder was named MVP).

Ron Washington in the mix for AL honor

November, 16, 2011
Quick, who won last year's Manager of the Year awards?

Exactly. Not the most interesting of the postseason awards. But here's a quick preview of the award that usually goes to the manager whose team surprised the most.

American League

Joe Maddon, Rays: The odds-on favorite to win his second award, following Tampa Bay's miracle playoff run in September. Positives: Kept team positive after 0-6 start, Evan Longoria's April injury and Manny Ramirez's drug test/retirement; overcame two shortstops who hit under .200; mixed and matched guys like Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez for maximum producitivity; rebuilt bullpen thrived; sent up Dan Johnson to pinch-hit in the ninth inning of game No. 162. Negatives: Was that a mullet?

Ron Washington, Rangers: Remember, postseason performance doesn't come into play. Positives: Moved Alexi Ogando to the rotation; got a big year out of Michael Young by moving him around the DH role and the infield; let Mike Napoli eventually take over as the regular catcher. Negatives: Remember, postseason performance doesn't come into play.

Jim Leyland, Tigers: A two-time winner with the Pirates and once with the Tigers, Leyland could be the first manager to win the award four times (the award began in 1983). Positives: Gave the ball to Justin Verlander and stayed out of the way. Negatives: Poor lineup construction.

Manny Acta, Indians: The Indians ended up at 80-82, but it was a positive season as they remained in the playoff race much of the season. Positives: Hung in there despite injuries to Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo; worked in young players like Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall; adeptly handled no-name bullpen to a nice season. Negatives: Couldn't straighten out Fausto Carmona; stuck with Orlando Cabrera way too long in No. 2 hole.

SweetSpot network voting
Joe Maddon: 114 points (21 first-place votes)
Jim Leyland: 32 points
Ron Washington: 28 points (1)
Manny Acta: 20 points (1)
Joe Girardi: 20 points (1)
Terry Francona: 1 point
Mike Scioscia: 1 point

My ballot
1. Joe Maddon
2. Manny Acta
3. Ron Washington

Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 6, Rangers 2

October, 28, 2011

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals won Game 7 of the World Series, coming back from 3-2 down in the series -- and twice being a strike away from losing in Game 6 to the Texas Rangers -- to win their 11th title. Some quick thoughts (more to come from the clubhouse):

What it means: The Rangers lose the World Series for the second consecutive season, falling in seven games in a highly entertaining Fall Classic. They came to St. Louis leading 3-2, but weren't able to win Games 6 or 7. It's the first time they've lost back-to-back games since late August.

No hits, but some hit by pitches: The Cardinals turned a one-run lead into a three-run game without getting a hit in the fifth inning. Scott Feldman, in to start the inning in relief of starter Matt Harrison, issued a one-out walk to Allen Craig. He got ahead 0-2 on Albert Pujols but then hit him on the sleeve. After Lance Berkman grounded out, the Rangers intentionally walked David Freese to load the bases. Feldman then fell behind Yadier Molina 3-0 before getting the count back to 3-2 and then walking him to score a run.

C.J. Wilson came in to relieve Feldman and hit Rafael Furcal with the first pitch he threw to give the Cardinals a 5-2 lead. Wilson then had a 1-2-3 sixth inning.

Walks: The Rangers issued 41 walks in the seven games, the most by a pitching staff in a single World Series (passed 1997 Florida Marlins).

Hamilton hit-and-run: Despite Ian Kinsler getting picked off of first base after he slipped trying to get back to the bag, the Rangers remained aggressive on the bases in the first. They called a hit-and-run with Elvis Andrus at first and Josh Hamilton at the plate. Hamilton belted a double to right field and Andrus was able to score with the head start.

Young delivers: Michael Young doubled home Hamilton in the first, going the other way. ESPN Stats & Information: After not having an RBI in his first seven games, Young had 12 RBIs in his last 10 postseason games.

Early runs: The two runs the Rangers scored in the top of the first were the first time a run had been scored in the first inning of Game 7 since 1972, when Oakland scored a run at Cincinnati in the top of the first. The last time a team scored multiple runs in the first of Game 7 was 1960, when the Pittsburgh Pirates took a 2-0 lead on the New York Yankees.

Clutch Freese: Once again, David Freese came through with a clutch hit. He did it in the first off starter Matt Harrison. Freese hit a double to left-center scoring two runs to tie the score. That gave Freese 21 RBIs this postseason, the most for any player in a single postseason. ESPN Stats & Information: Freese joined Allen Craig as the only players to have three consecutive plate appearances to either tie or take the lead in a World Series.

Harrison goes four: Harrison lasted just four innings in Game 7, allowing three runs on five hits with two walks and one strikeout. Harrison wasn't able to hold a 2-0 lead as he took the mound, instead allowing two runs right away. That seemed to zap some of the Rangers' momentum. He didn't quite have the command he needed and the Rangers weren't going to push things past four innings.

Double-play machine: Harrison was second in the majors to teammate C.J. Wilson in double plays induced in the 2011 regular season with 30. And he got one in the second after Rafael Furcal led off with a single. Harrison got Skip Schumaker to hit into a 6-4-3 double play as Andrus charged the ball and made a nice play to start it.

Craig homers again: For the second straight game, Allen Craig homered. This time he went to right field and into the Cardinals' bullpen to give St. Louis a 3-2 lead in the third.

Insurance run: The Cardinals added another run in the seventh off reliever Mike Adams. Lance Berkman beat out an infield single, David Freese walked and Yadier Molina singled to drive in Berkman. That put the Cardinals up 6-2.

Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 10, Rangers 9

October, 27, 2011

ST. LOUIS -- Wow. In an incredible game full of lead changes and back-and-forth action (it's easy to forget about the spotty defense thanks to the last few innings, isn't it?), the Cardinals pulled out an amazing 10-9 victory in 11 innings to extend the World Series to a seventh game. David Freese hit the winning home run in the bottom of the 11th after the Rangers could taste the title.

What it means: The Rangers were one strike away twice and couldn't finish the deal in Thursday's Game 6. They had five different leads and couldn't hold them. So we'll play a Game 7 on Friday. Amazing.

Freese warms up crowd: The St. Louis fans went crazy when Freese's home run went onto the grassy hill in center field. It came off reliever Mark Lowe as the Rangers were going through bullpen pitchers in an effort to keep the game going at that point.

One strike away (in ninth): The Rangers were one strike away from the championship when Freese hit a 1-2 pitch to the wall in right. Nelson Cruz appeared to have a play on it (some of the Rangers players thought he was going to catch it), but was not able to get there. Two runs scored to turn a 7-5 score into a tie game. It was a blown save for Neftali Feliz.

One strike away again (in 10th): Darren Oliver came in for the 10th after the Rangers took a 9-7 lead and gave up consecutive singles and then a sac bunt by pinch-hitter Kyle Lohse to put runners at second and third. Scott Feldman came in to face right-handed hitter Ryan Theriot. Feldman got him to ground out as a run scored. Albert Pujols was intentionally walked (despite being the winning run) to bring Lance Berkman to the plate. Berkman delivered on a 2-2 pitch with a single to center to score two runs and tie the game again. It was the fifth time the Cardinals tied the game.

Errors and more errors: Mistakes in the field cost both teams. Matt Holliday had what appeared to be an easy fly ball from Cruz in shallow left as shortstop Rafael Furcal backtracked as well. But there was some sort of miscommunication and the ball went off Holliday's glove. That put Cruz at second with no outs in the fourth. He scored on an RBI single by Mike Napoli.

In the bottom of the inning, Michael Young was given an error on what should have been an easy ground-ball out and flip to the pitcher to retire Berkman. Yadier Molina's groundout to third scored Berkman to tie the score.

But in the top of the fifth, Freese dropped a popup to third from Josh Hamilton. Freese was camped under it and it went off his glove. Young immediately made the Cardinals pay with a double to left-center field. That put the Rangers up 4-3.

Young had another error, bobbling a bouncer as he thought about throwing to second. That allowed Holliday to get on. The Cardinals ended up scoring yet again.

Hamilton homers: What a great time for Hamilton's first postseason home run. After the Cardinals had tied it in the bottom of the ninth, Hamilton hit the first pitch he saw from Jason Motte, a 98 mph fastball. It went into the seats in right-center to give the Rangers the lead right back.

Back-to-back jacks: With the score tied in the seventh, the Rangers' big bats came out. Adrian Beltre led off the inning with a home run to right-center estimated at 410 feet. Then Cruz followed with a 419-foot shot to the third deck in left field. That put Texas up 6-4. ESPN Stats & Information: The last back-to-back homers in the World Series were in Game 3 in 2008, by Phillies Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Cruz's postseason: Cruz has eight home runs and 16 RBIs. He's tied with Barry Bonds (2002) and Carlos Beltran (2004) for the most homers in a single postseason.

Lewis solid: As usual in the postseason, Colby Lewis did the job. He went 5 1/3 innings and gave up four runs (two earned) with three walks and four strikeouts. The numbers are misleading, though. Poor defense at times behind Lewis hurt his cause. But he was solid and gave his team a chance to win. And he was better than his counterpart.

Early run, wasted chance: The Rangers started the game with an Ian Kinsler walk, an Elvis Andrus single (to put runners on the corners) and a Hamilton RBI single. But with a 1-0 lead, runners on the corners and no outs, the Rangers didn't plate any more runs. Young and Beltre struck out and Cruz grounded weakly to third to end the inning. As poorly as starter Jaime Garcia pitched, he was able to get out of the inning allowing just one run.

First-inning blast: Moments after Lewis retired Pujols on a first-pitch fly ball to right, switch-hitter Berkman hit the first pitch he saw for an opposite-field homer. Berkman was 2-for-15 with six strikeouts in his career against Lewis before hitting that home run.

Short start: Garcia lasted just three innings. He was having trouble finding the strike zone, dealt with runners in every inning and threw 59 pitches with just 35 of them strikes.

Year of the Napoli: The Rangers' catcher got his 10th RBI of this World Series with the single that hit the chalk. Only two players in World Series history have more RBIs in a single Series than Napoli: Bobby Richardson (12 in 1960) and Mickey Mantle (11 in 1960). Napoli also had yet another big play on the bases as he picked off Holliday at third base with the bases loaded in the sixth.

Beltre's block: Napoli made a terrific throw to pick off Holliday at third base with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth in a tie game. But give a huge assist to Beltre, who blocked third base with his right foot and then applied the tag.

Hang-ups: Wash, Napoli deserve credit, too

October, 26, 2011
We can’t seem to get enough of "Phone-Gate" and the fact that Tony La Russa might have actually made a managerial mistake in Game 5, to the point that most of the country seems ready to buy into the idea that if the Cardinals’ bullpen snafu hadn’t happened, they would have won that game instead of the Rangers.

Maybe they would have. But the fact is, they didn't -- and not just because La Russa didn’t have the right reliever in the game when he should have.

Give Ron Washington some credit here, too. His gut told him to stick with David Murphy against left-hander Mark Rzepcynzski -- that’s exactly who La Russa wanted in that situation -- and Murphy responded with an infield hit off the lefty’s arm to load the bases. In the Cardinals’ dugout, La Russa tried to pull his cap over his eyes.

Yes, ideally La Russa would have then brought his closer, Jason Motte, into the game to face Mike Napoli, but the communication gaffe meant no right-hander was warming up. So Napoli delivered the game-winning double. Give him some credit here, too. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have come up with a clutch hit against Motte there, too? He’s been doing it the entire postseason.

The rest of the bullpen mixup -- Lance Lynn mistakenly being warmed up and called in instead of Motte -- was basically irrelevant to the game. Lynn intentionally walked Ian Kinsler, and Motte, now warm, came on to strike out Elvis Andrus.

Two days and a hundred explanations later, there are still plenty of questions. How did La Russa say "Motte" into the phone and bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist hear "Lynn," even in a raucous stadium? And why wasn’t Lilliquist privy to the information that La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan had decided before the game that Lynn wasn’t available? Shouldn’t the bullpen coach be included in those discussions?

But here's the bottom line: La Russa and the Cardinals could have easily done everything right and still lost this game. He would already have had to use his closer in the eighth inning of a tie game on the road, not the best of circumstances for any manager or team. And La Russa's hitters were a woeful 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

The Rangers didn't win this game because La Russa blew it. They won it because they were the better team in Game 5.

Hard as it is to believe, it’s not always about Tony Genius.

La Russa: Albert Pujols called hit and run

October, 25, 2011

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols called the hit and run in the seventh inning of Game 5, manager Tony La Russa confirmed on Tuesday.

"I trust Albert," La Russa said. "He's one of the best I've ever been around in putting the ball in play."

La Russa said Pujols has had the "leeway" to call his own hit and run for years now because he's a smart player and has a great sense of the game.

In the seventh inning of Game 5, Pujols didn't swing at a high fastball from Alexi Ogando and catcher Mike Napoli was able to gun down Allen Craig at second base easily. Craig came back to the dugout and La Russa asked him how the hit and run sign had been relayed. La Russa wanted to make sure it hadn't been signaled accidentally from the bench.

La Russa said sometimes Pujols will tell La Russa he's thinking that a hit and run is a good idea and ask his opinion. Pujols didn't do that in Game 5 and La Russa said he wouldn't have hit and run in that situation. But he trusts Pujols and says Pujols has earned the privilege to make that call.

Defensive difference: Mike Napoli's gun

October, 25, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas – Mike Napoli has had a historic World Series, joining Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle as the only men with four multi-RBI games in the same Fall Classic.

He’s made quite an impact behind the plate, too.

The Cardinals have managed to score a total of only six runs in the four games Napoli played catcher. His presence went beyond calling a good game Monday night, when he twice gunned down Allen Craig trying to steal second base in critical situations.

Craig’s first failed attempt came on what Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called a “mix-up” in the seventh inning, allowing the Rangers to intentionally walk Albert Pujols with two outs instead of pitching to him with a runner on first.

The second came on a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play with a full count on Pujols in the ninth inning. The first two outs of the final frame came on the hit-and-run gone wrong.

“The throw with Pujols at the plate [in the ninth inning] was not an easy throw,” said second baseman Ian Kinsler, who made the tag on both plays. “That ball is up over his head at 98. He had to reach up, catch it and throw a strike down to second. It was a very good play.

“He’s been overlooked in his career as a catcher, as a defensive catcher. He’s proven leaps and bounds [better than] what people though, and he’s obviously not too shabby on the offensive end, either.”

Napoli’s defensive ability was a sore point in Anaheim. Manager/ex-catcher Mike Scioscia didn’t believe Napoli was good behind the plate, prompting the Angels to trade him to Toronto, which quickly flipped him in a steal of a deal for Texas.

That made the throws on the game’s biggest stage even sweeter for the player Rangers manager Ron Washington affectionately refers to as “Dirtbag.”

“I got labeled as not really a good catcher,” said Napoli, who drove in the game-winning runs with an RBI double in the eighth. “I’m glad I can show everybody I can do it on both sides.”

Fans cause confusion on bullpen changes

October, 24, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Whether it was defeaning roars of "NA-PO-LI!" or the decibel level steadily increasing as the Texas Rangers tied Game 5 and then stood poised to take the lead, the noise impacted the bullpen's ability to hear manager Tony La Russa's voice over the phone.

"It must be loud," La Russa said. "I give the fans credit."

The odd choice of relievers was apparently because the bullpen couldn't hear La Russa correctly on the other end of the phone. What if the Rangers win the World Series in part because of the noise level of the 51, 459 fans at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington?

"They all get rings," said Kinsler, though he added that he's not buying.

Instead of closer Jason Motte getting warm in order to pitch to Mike Napoli in the eighth, the bullpen had Lance Lynn throwing. La Russa said if Motte was ready, he would have pitched to Napoli.

"Twice the bullpen didn't hear Motte's name," La Russa said. "They heard "Rzepczynski" and they didn't get Motte. I looked up there and Motte wasn't going."

La Russa was then forced to go with Marc Rzepczynski against Napoli with Motte not throwing. Napoli hit .319 against lefties this season and hit a two-run double to right-center to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead.

"I called back for Motte and they got Lynn up," La Russa said. "That's why he wasn't supposed to pitch today, so I wasn't going to let him throw that hitter."

La Russa said he went out of the dugout and thought that it was Motte ready in the bullpen.

"They were yelling at me as I went out," La Russa said. "I didn't hear them. It wasn't Motte. So I saw Lynn, I went, 'Oh, what are you doing?'"

Lynn came in and issued an intentional walk to Ian Kinsler before leaving, certainly an odd sight in any game, let alone one in the World Series. That gave Motte time to get warm. But by then, the damage was already done.

"We had a chance with Rzepczynski's stuff to get Napoli," La Russa said. "He put a nice swing on a breaking ball."

The Rangers fans get a big assist, apparently, in the club's Game 5 victory.

"If that's the truth, I can believe it, because it's been incredibly, incredibly loud," Kinsler said. "I think everyone in here has said it before, we've been to Tampa, Detroit, New York, St. Louis, San Francisco and this is the loudest outdoor ballpark we've even been at. They are great fans. It's a great way to go out. Hopefully, they'll be that loud screaming at the TV when we're in St. Louis."

Manager's moment: No walks in 9th

October, 21, 2011

ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa was faced with some tough choices in the ninth inning of Game 2. After a blooper by Ian Kinsler (Michael Young called it a lawn dart), a two-strike single by Elvis Andrus and a botched play by Albert Pujols when he failed to glove a relay throw, La Russa saw Rangers at second and third and no outs.

La Russa went with lefty Arthur Rhodes to try to get Josh Hamilton out, rather than walk him.

"You know, loading the bases, that's a really difficult thing to do," La Russa said. "We had a chance to do something with Hamilton with Rhodes, maybe they score a run but they don't advance the other guy. He did a good job. He pulled a ball, so he got a run in and got a guy over."

What about letting closer Jason Motte, more of a strikeout pitcher, stay in against Hamilton?

"Hamilton handles a fastball pretty well and if [Andrus] hadn't gotten to second base, probably would have left him in there," La Russa said. "But if you're thinking about how can you get an out and maybe not have the guy go from second to third, I thought the left-hander had a better chance. He got an out, just he got in front of the ball and pulled it. That's really good hitting."

So in a 1-1 game with a runner at third and one out, La Russa decides to have right-hander Lance Lynn pitch to Young rather than walk him to set up a double play with Adrian Beltre behind him.

"Young did a very good job of getting the ball to the outfield," La Russa said.

La Russa made his pitching changes and opted to pitch to the middle of the Rangers' order. And the Rangers hitter did what the game asked them to do.



Adrian Beltre
.324 19 77 79
HRA. Beltre 19
RBIA. Beltre 77
RA. Beltre 79
OPSA. Beltre .879
WC. Lewis 10
ERAC. Lewis 5.18
SOY. Darvish 182