Sports

Sports

Phone pas least of woes for Cards

October 26, 2011

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— This just in from Busch Stadium: Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. didn’t fire Tony La Russa after the peculiar sequence of events that turned Game 5 into a long, strange trip.

La Russa will be in the dugout working World Series Game 6. He’ll be in full survival mode, doing whatever he can to push the Cardinals through to Game 7.

And, yes, La Russa will still be allowed to use the telephone.

Tuesday afternoon at Busch, La Russa took full responsibility for Game 5’s inexplicable bullpen-phone debacle. La Russa couldn’t get his desired relievers into a 2-2 game because of a miscommunication when he rang the bullpen to relay instructions. The Rangers jumped for a two-run double from Johnny Bench — sorry, I meant to say Mike Napoli — and won 4-2.

From a St. Louis standpoint, this was the most disappointing phone-call experience since Chuck Berry called Memphis, Tenn., and couldn’t get in touch with his Marie.

“To the extent that what I wanted to have happen wasn’t happening, didn’t happen, yeah, that’s my fault,” La Russa said. “I don’t need to dodge that, ever.”

La Russa absolved bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist.

“I mean, he felt bad about it, but I said, ‘Hey, it’s my fault.’ Maybe I slurred it, whatever it is,” La Russa said. “It comes down to who has the responsibility when there’s those kinds of miscommunications; it’s mine.”

So on the day after the Cardinals frittered away a victory to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead in the World Series, La Russa calmly handled another round of questions.

La Russa put his lawyerly skills to use. Parts of the story still don’t make sense. If you want to parse La Russa’s words and find holes in his version of events, the cracks and fault lines are there.

If La Russa is holding back on details, my hunch is that he’s trying to protect some of his guys. When asked if he’d been the one making all of the phone calls to the bullpen in Game 5, La Russa mentioned pitching coach Dave Duncan and said, “Yeah, I think sometimes Dunc calls, but he’s usually doing his chart. I think I called.”

TLR only thinks he called?

Well, that’s less than definitive.

We can go around and around on this, but the conclusion is the same: It was a horrible evening in Texas for the Cardinals and their manager. Go ahead and accuse La Russa of multiple baseball crimes and misdemeanors, but if the Cardinals’ hitters step up and chip in with a couple of timely hits, a perky traveling party takes a 3-2 Series lead back home to The Lou.

The La Russa imbroglio has caused something of a fever among national baseball reporters. No doubt the Cardinals’ hitters are thankful for this, given their embarrassing failure to deliver positive impact in the team’s three losses.

The Cardinals went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position in Game 5. They have scored three runs, total, in their three losses to the Rangers, and that includes being shut out in Game 4.

In the three losses the Cardinals have hit .169 with a .191 slugging percentage. They’re 2-for-21 with runners in scoring position.

In the three losses Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and David Freese — hitters three through six in the lineup — are a combined 6-for-39 with no runs batted in.

But this is all on Tony, right?

La Russa hit .199 in the majors, and there’s your problem.

Too many important Cardinals are hitting like La Russa once did.

That must change, now or never.

If the Cardinals go down quietly, if they lose this World Series to the Texas Rangers, the stain of Game 5 will stick to La Russa for a long time — maybe forever. And all because his players couldn’t come through with a big hit. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem fair.

The Cardinals need to win one for Don Tony.

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