Commentary

Your move, Tony La Russa

Cards skipper uses five relievers to get six outs in 2-1 loss in World Series Game 2

Updated: October 21, 2011, 5:11 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa's bullpens are as jammed with relievers as a circus car full of clowns. He's got eight relievers in the 'pen this World Series, and he's damn well going to use them whether he needs to or not.

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Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesCardinals manager Tony La Russa yanked Jason Motte with two on and nobody out in the ninth.

So it shouldn't have been too surprising when he gave Jason Motte the quick hook in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series. Before Thursday, Motte had pitched nine innings in this postseason, struck out seven batters, saved five games and allowed just one baserunner. But so what? Motte had given up a bloop single followed by another single, and there were runners at second and third with nobody out. More importantly, there was a left-handed hitter coming to the plate and there was a left-hander available in the bullpen and, well, Tony just couldn't help himself.

So rather than let Motte throw his upper-90s heat to injured and struggling Josh Hamilton, La Russa walked slowly to the mound and called in 41-year-old Arthur Rhodes for a cherished lefty-lefty matchup. Rhodes faced Hamilton in Game 1 and retired him on a fly to center.

"From what I understand, Hamilton handles a fastball pretty well and if [Elvis Andrus] hadn't got to second base, I probably would have left Motte in there,'' La Russa said of his move. "But if you're thinking about how you can get an out and maybe not have the guy go from second to third, I thought the left-hander had a better chance. And Rhodes did good. He got an out  Hamilton just got in front of the ball and pulled it.''

Well, perhaps Hamilton pulled the pitch for a sacrifice fly -- the first ball Hamilton has hit to right field this series -- because he was facing the much softer-throwing Rhodes than Motte.

Granted, Motte is not quite at the level of Mariano Rivera -- with 12 career saves, he's roughly 600 behind Mo. La Russa hasn't even officially anointed him as his closer. He just has used him that way since early September. More importantly Motte now has an entrance song for when he trots in from the bullpen, which is really the official determination of whether a pitcher is a closer or not.

Whatever you call him, La Russa turned to Motte to protect the Cardinals' 1-0 lead against the top of the Texas order. Ian Kinsler led off with a bloop single to left that Michael Young described as a "lawn dart.'' Elvis Andrus then unsuccessfully attempted to lay down a bunt before singling to center. A botched cutoff throw left runners at second and third with no outs.

Motte had given up two hits and was in a very precarious situation, but he wasn't pitching poorly. Motte said that when La Russa first came out of the dugout, he hoped it was simply to discuss how to pitch Hamilton. But then he saw Rhodes was warming up in the bullpen and realized the inevitable.

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Jeff Curry/US PresswireSo much for the Rally Squirrel in Game 2. The Cardinals got a leadoff walk in the ninth, then went quietly.

"You always want to stay in there, but it's one of those things where he's the boss,'' Motte said. "I've said it before. You go in when the phone rings and he tells you to go in, and you're out of the game when he comes out and tells you. I would have liked to go out there and stay, but you know what, I didn't do my job tonight. My job is to get guys out, and I didn't."

Rhodes gave up the Hamilton flyout that scored Kinsler with the tying run. More importantly, because Hamilton was able to pull the ball to right, the fly advanced Andrus to third, and he scored on Young's sacrifice fly off Lance Lynn. Lynn was La Russa's fifth reliever of a 2-1 game, and the third reliever in a span of three batters. La Russa used five relievers to record six outs. The last seven outs took six pitchers. But tomorrow is another day. Maybe we'll see nine outs from nine pitchers, which might be La Russa's ultimate dream.

Well, that is how La Russa manages. His frequent bullpen maneuvers have done more to lengthen ballgames in the past two decades than television commercials, Nomar Garciaparra glove adjustments and Jorge Posada-A.J. Burnett mound conferences combined. It's aggravating for fans who like shorter games and dislike ultra specialization. But as all those wins and postseason appearances show, this strategy is usually effective for the Cards' manager.

But when you make that many moves, eventually some are not going to work. Thursday night was one of those times.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com