Genius La Russa has a rough night

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter cant get control of a ground ball against the Texas Rangers during the fifth inning of game five of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on October 25, 2011. The Rangers defeated the Cardinals 4-2 and lead the series 3-2. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

The fiasco with the bullpen was bad enough, but Tony La Russa really blew it in the ninth inning. Tom Verducci explains:

In the seventh inning, either Pujols called his own hit-and-run play and didn’t swing, or Craig saw a sign that wasn’t there, or the moon was in the phase of Aquarius, but somehow the Cardinals gave up a runner at first (Craig was thrown out), which immediately allowed Washington to intentionally walk Pujols. It gets worse. In the ninth, trailing 4-2, Craig was on first base with no outs while Rangers closer Neftali Feliz had a full count on Pujols, who represented the tying run. La Russa ordered Craig to run on the pitch. Pujols, after two foul balls, chased ball four — a 99 mph fastball off the plate — swung through it and Craig was thrown out for double play.

Here is La Russa’s explanation in full:

“Yeah, I trusted Albert could put the ball in play. In fact, the two swings that he fouled the ball off with the second baseman going over, the hole was there and all of a sudden it was first and third and nobody out and the last pitch, the guy has a very live arm and it sailed on him and he missed. I liked sending him and having a chance to open that inning up, and it didn’t work.”

Think about what La Russa is saying here. Pujols represents the tying run, and yet La Russa is talking about him as if he is Nick Punto. He is thinking about Pujols — who two days earlier joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only men ever to hit three homers in a game — hitting a groundball through the right side of the infield with Kinsler covering second base. A groundball to second base with Pujols finally getting a chance to swing the bat as the potential tying run! Do you know how many opposite field singles Pujols had this year in 651 plate appearances? Eleven. Less than two percent of his plate appearances. And that counts all opposite field singles of any kind, including line drives, not just seeing-eye ground balls through the vacated second base hole.

Do you know how many times Pujols hit a homer this year? Thirty-seven — or more than three times more often than he hit opposite field singles.

Really, my head hurts trying to figure out what La Russa did to this game but mostly how he tried to explain it away. It was like being stuck in a gigantic corn maze. Blindfolded. At midnight. After getting spun around 38 times. Every explanation led to another turn that led to another dead end or false exit. The bottom line is he lost the game having a matchup he didn’t want — a left-hander pitching to red-hot Napoli — and he lost his last opportunity by getting a runner thrown out who, while down two runs, didn’t mean anything. I’ve never seen a game even close to this one and I hope never again to have to try to explain one like it.

Watching the game, I was stunned to see Pujols swinging at that last pitch, trying to protect the runner. One swing and the game would have been tied. This is a classic case of a manager over-thinking a situation. Earl Weaver would have sat back and let his horse take his swings.

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Cardinals take game 1 over Rangers

St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday (7) hands relief pitcher Jason Motte (30) the ball he caught to make the final out after game 1 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium on October 19, 2011 in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 3-2. UPI/Brian Kersey

The St. Louis Cardinals won game one of the World Series 3-2 over the Texas Rangers. Tony La Russa seemed to have the magic touch as each of his moves worked perfectly in a tight game. In the sixth inning, La Russa sent out pinch hitter Allen Craig to hit for starter Chris Carpenter, and Craig got the game-winning RBI single.

From there, the Cards’ bullpen took over, and now they have game one.

Will the World Series go seven games?

A painting crew from the Warren Sign Company puts the finishing touches on the World Series logo at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on October 17, 2011. The St. Louis Cardinals will host the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the 2011 World Series on October 19, 2011. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Did you realize that we haven’t had a game 7 in the World Series since 2002? These teams seem to be pretty evenly matched, so Tom Verducci discusses how we might finally get to seven:

Is this the World Series we’ve been waiting for? Is the longest wait for the best day in sports about to end?

The ingredients are in place for a World Series that is nine years in the making: one so evenly matched and tightly contested that it takes every possible game to decide it. Baseball has not seen a World Series Game 7 since 2002, when the Angels defeated the Giants. It was so long ago that steroids were in full swing, the last year without testing. Since the best-of-seven format permanently replaced the best-of-nine format in 1922, this is the longest drought without a Game 7 in World Series history.

Why not now? The tone was set by the Night of 162, in which the last two playoff sports were decided on the last day of the regular season with three games that ended in the last at-bat. Such drama was then followed by a record-tying three Sudden Death games in the Division Series — all of which were one-run games that went down to the last at-bat.

He goes on to explain how the team that wins Game 1 is 19-4 in for the title since 1987, so Game 1 is very important. On the other hand, neither team has a dominant pitching staff, so Verducci thinks this year might be different.

As for game one, the Cards are favored with Chris Carpenter facing C.J. Wilson. The Cardinals are also loaded with right-handed bats, and the Rangers will start three lefties.

I have no idea who will win this thing, but it’s been a fun season, so maybe we’ll get a great series.

Top 10 active MLB games without a World Series appearance

As we try to turn away from steroid implications and indictments and all of the black clouds surrounding Major League Baseball, we can’t forget that there are games to be played. Yes, the 2009 season is almost upon us. And with Ken Griffey Jr. signing with the Seattle Mariners this past week, where his great career began, it’s worth noting the Top 10 in active players who are not only ring-less, but have never appeared in a World Series game. (Note that we only counted those who are still active or at least played through the 2008 season.)

1. Ken Griffey Jr. (2521 games, 20 seasons)—He’s played for some great Mariners teams, but his Reds’ clubs the last decade or so were mostly awful. Junior had a shot with the White Sox last season after being traded, and didn’t make it. Can he play long enough for Seattle to become competitive again?

2. Frank Thomas (2322, 19)—Really, the Big Hurt has never sniffed a World Series? Well yeah, he was with the White Sox for 16 years and the team won it all in 2005, his last season with the team. But that October, Thomas was injured and left off the postseason roster, and then signed with Oakland in 2006.

3. Alex Rodriguez (2042, 15)—Does anyone else think it’s not coincidental that A-Rod has never reached the Fall Classic? Dude is a world-beater in the regular season but never seems to match or exceed his capability in the postseason.

4. Carlos Delgado (2009, 16)—Delgado began his career in Toronto right after the Jays won two World Series titles, and while he’s been close with the Mets a few times, he’s still looking for that “brass” ring.

5. Ray Durham (1975, 14)—Ray Durham has been a steady player, but all those years with the Giants (after they were NL champs in 2002) didn’t help his chances to reach the big stage. A late-season trade to Milwaukee in 2008 got him close, but the Brewers lost to Philly in the NLDS.

6. Jason Kendall (1833, 13)—Nine seasons in Pittsburgh says all that there needs to be said.

7. Bobby Abreu (1799, 13)—Abreu left Philly, and the Phillies won two division titles and a World Series. He put up decent numbers with the Yanks, but being A-Rod’s teammate didn’t help matters any (see above).

8. Mark Grudzielanek (1772, 14)—Grudzielanek began his career in Canadian baseball purgatory (Montreal) and has played the last three seasons in American baseball purgatory (Kansas City).

9. Vladimir Guerrero (1750, 13)—This dude has absolutely mashed his entire career, but playing eight years in Montreal ensured a late start in postseason experience. He signed with the Angels two years after they won it all, and is on a very talented team that always seems to underachieve in the playoffs.

10. Miguel Tejada (1713, 12)—Tejada won an MVP award in Oakland and has put up some monster numbers. His link to steroid use, along with A-Rod’s, has not exactly put him in a good light, but it’s still a bit surprising that he’s never made it to the big dance.

Source: Baseball Reference

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