Monday, October 28, 2013
From La Russa to Matheny, winning is constant
(Eds: Updates throughout to add details. With AP Photos.)
By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS -- Almost always, Mike Matheny keeps his cool.
That's what you might notice at first about Tony La Russa's successor as St. Louis Cardinals manager, the inner fire without the bombast. It's what you see right now in the glare of October, when the moves pay off big time or fail miserably, and are endlessly dissected either way.
There's a difference in style, but winning is a given.
La Russa managed 2,728 regular-season wins in 33 seasons and trails only Connie Mack and John McGraw. He became the first manager to retire a winner after guiding a heavy underdog to the 2011 title, and is sure the Cardinals got the right guy.
"I'm in no position to compare," La Russa said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I just know that he was always an impressive leader type.
"I definitely know he has the ability. I think he's already made his mark."
Make no mistake, there's plenty of fire.
In Game 4, Matheny took umpires to task over perceived shortcomings. Though every question gets a measured response, sometimes after tough losses the microphone picks up the sound of fingers impatiently tapping away on the lectern.
The manager declined to take it easy on Kolten Wong after the rookie was cut down in Game 4 for the first game-ending pickoff in World Series history, pointing out he knew about Koji Uehara's move.
"He was reminded once he got on base, and also he was reminded that run didn't mean much, be careful, shorten up," Matheny said.
Matheny's playing career as a light-hitting, strong fielding catcher peaked when he played for La Russa and won four Gold Gloves in five seasons.
His steady field leadership made an impression, and his resume jumped to the top of the pile for St. Louis without a single game of managing experience.
Players climbed aboard right away. Pitcher Adam Wainwright credits not just La Russa, but also 90-year-old Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, who managed the Cardinals to a World Series victory over the Red Sox in 1967 and remains active as a special assistant to general manager John Mozeliak.
"The perfect torch there," Wainwright said from the podium earlier in the postseason. "A guy who was a great leader and a great motivator of men, and a guy who's learned from the best in my opinion."
The Cardinals were expected to fade a bit last year with a rookie manager who didn't have Albert Pujols' big bat for the lineup. They took advantage of the second NL wild card and rallied on the road to knock off the Braves and Nationals before running out of gas in the NL championship series when they squandered a 3-1 lead against the Giants.
Matheny is part of a new breed of manager, a group including Boston counterpart John Farrell, Kirk Gibson in Arizona and White Sox manager Robin Ventura, that didn't require minor league trial and error seasoning.
Last fall, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy thought the Cardinals had the same fire and added, "I wish I could tell you there's a difference."
"If you played the game for as long as he did, you know how the game is going to be run," St. Louis slugger Carlos Beltran said. "You know the players dictate how the game goes and as manager you know you're going to have two or three opportunities to make a change.
"But there are a lot of things you have to do to put your team in position."
In Year 2, Matheny has gotten the most out of a roster that by necessity has leaned heavily on rookies. St. Louis is close to making it two titles in three seasons with not just different managers but vastly different casts, too.
Rookies combined for a major league-high 36 wins and have provided five more in the postseason, four by Michael Wacha. All the high leverage spots in the bullpen are manned by rookies.
Matheny is probably more of a players' manager than La Russa, but both can be fiercely loyal. The Cardinals are carrying Edward Mujica, who had 35 saves before fading badly in September and losing the closer job to rookie Trevor Rosenthal, perhaps as a reward for what he's done.
Rookie Shelby Miller also seems to be around because of his role in the season-long success. The 15-game winner was in the rotation from the start and the team is giving him the quasi-Stephen Strasburg treatment, using him for just one inning entering Game 5.
Matheny came under fire for pitching decisions in Game 4 of the World Series, and seemed to arrive for Game 5 with a clean slate.
"La Russa is a Hall of Fame manager, and I think a lot of us wanted Mike," third baseman David Freese said. "There were a ton of us who were friends with Mike and we knew what type of guy he was."
"He's extremely close to his family and I think we're his second family."