When Tony La Russa misfired in Game 2 of the World Series by pulling his closer, Jason Motte, for Arthur “Pothole” Rhodes, I felt the barrage of criticism he took was unfair. Like him or not, La Russa is one of the game’s great managers and he simply can’t be right all the time (despite what he might tell you). Just getting his team this far — which is pretty damn far, especially when you enter September 10-1/2 games out of a playoff spot — is miraculous, so I figured he should be cut some slack. And it’s not like Motte is Mariano Rivera and you put him out there to finish every game, win or lose.
But after last night’s debacle, I can’t stand behind La Russa any longer. His place in history is secure, but it may have a few dings in it if the Cards don’t win the next two games. What exactly transpired in the St. Louis bullpen last night may remain a mystery forever — even to the Cardinals skipper. How La Russa could remain unaware that Motte was not warming up is astounding, to say the least. He claimed it was very noisy and difficult to communicate by phone to his bullpen coach, Derek Lilliquist, who claimed he heard “Lynn” and not Motte. Never mind that Lance Lynn was unavailable to pitch last night. Or that Lynn sounds nothing like Motte. Unless he’s just covering for his boss (a distinct possibility), I kind of doubt Lilliquist will have a job next season, but that’s besides the point. La Russa’s the manager and needs to make sure the right guys are warming up in the pen. So figure out a way to confirm that Jason Freakin’ Motte is warming up. Use hand signals. Send a bat boy out to deliver the message. Communicate via email (is it against MLB rules to arm your coaching staff with smartphones?). Call up to the Fox booth and ask them what’s going on in your pen. Or just call time and walk out there yourself, Tony! It’s game five of the World Series, for heaven’s sake! Don’t assume anything, especially in a ballpark where, according to Ozzie Guillen on ESPN, you can’t see the visiting bullpen from your dugout. La Russa, a bullpen freak if there ever was one, had three games to figure that out.
By the way, speaking of Guillen: can you imagine if this happened to him? His bullpen coach would have a broken nose as would half the members of the media.
It would be a shame if Tony La Russa’s legacy were tainted by this bizarre turn of events, but under the bright lights of the World Series, people tend to recall your greatest failures ahead of your greatest triumphs. Just ask Bill Buckner.