Results tagged ‘ Tony La Russa ’

Whew! A day or two off might be a welcome relief

Wow!  Can’t remember seeing so many bizarre things happen in one game! And… it’s the World Series!

Mix-ups, miscommunications, unusual moves, unusual results.

First, I always believe that managers know their players and what they can and can’t do better than any of us. I can only comment on what I would do if I were pitching or what I learned from watching players that I played with and against  and managers that I played  for and apply that knowledge to try to figure out what is going on between the lines and in the minds of those involved down on the field.

Last night’s game was a second-guesser’s delight. Lots of things to question players and managers about. Here are some of the things that puzzled me and what I would have wanted to ask some of the participants about:

Let’s start with the result. Texas won 4-2, but it didn’t seem as “clean”  or well played game that a 4-2 score would indicate.

C.J. Wilson walked through a minefield of base runners through five innings to survive by surrendering just two runs. Not all his fault. The Rangers were a little sloppy with their fielding. I cringed when he came out for the 6th.

Chris Carpenter deserved to be the winning pitcher. The curve to Adrian Beltre just a smidge too high and a smidge too much inside. Other than that pitch and the one Mitch Moreland smoked, he was terrific.  Give up two solo home runs in that park to that lineup, and you’ll win probably eight out of 10 times.

So why would Albert or Tony put a hit-and-run sign on with Albert hitting? I ask because when I played with Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew, he never wanted the runners to be in motion when he was at bat. First, they were already in scoring position, because Harm was one of the most dangerous home run threats of his era. He hit 573 of them. Secondly, when the runners were in motion, it distracted him… and tempted him to swing at close pitches he would normally not swing at. Like most power hitters, he hit into a lot of double plays. So what. Maybe the purpose of the hit-and-run has changed, but during my era of playing, the hit-and-run’s purpose was to make the middle infielders move and open up a hole to get runners on first and third. Staying out of the DP was secondary.

I’m puzzled in learning that Albert puts on a hit-and-run sign a lot. Didn’t think it would be necessary. Also, the hit-and-run usually is easier to execute when you have a pitcher that is a) almost always around the plate with his pitches; and b) quite easy easy to make contact with his pitches. Feliz is neither. He misses the strike zone by a lot, and he’s difficult for a hitter to make contact.

I would never suspect a hitter of Albert’s caliber would use the hit-and-run a lot. I know he doesn’t strike out as much as he walks or as much as most home run hitters do, but from a pitcher’s point of view i think I’d rather have him hit-and-run and try to make contact than to sit on a pitch, take a balanced swing and cost me two runs with a homer.

I have seen that the purpose of the hit and run has changed from what its intention was when guys like Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox used it in the 50s for the White Sox or Dick Groat when he hit second for the Cardinals and Pirates. Fox struck out 13 times in 1959 in over 600 ABs, Groat 35 times in 1960 in over 600 ABs. Both guys won MVP awards. That was the typical hit-and-run type batter. Soooooo, that’s why it’s puzzling to see a hitter like Albert use it. He’s certainly capable of making contact, except against Feliz it’s a low percentage.

Now, about the bullpen mixup… It’s a stadium design flaw if the bullpens are not in view of the team dugout. Manager and pitching coach should be able to see who is or isn’t warming up. When the phones broke down years ago, we’d have individual signals from the bench for each reliever. Make a big circle with your hands if he was a little heavy; stroke your chin if he had a beard; arm up high for the taller of the two lefties. Plenty of ways to do it.

When the bullpen and dugout phones were connected to the stadium switchboard, they had three-digit extensions. The directory was on a card on the wall in the dugouts and the bullpens. In Detroit, the home bullpen was down the left field line, and the guys in the home dugout couldn’t see it.  The Tigers’ late inning pitcher was lefty Hank Aguirre. As a starting pitcher, I would get bored and restless on the days I wasn’t pitching, so I’d sneak down to the pen. Drove the bullpen coach crazy. Clyde McCullough or Bob Oldis or whoever it was at the time.

One day we got a couple of runners on base and, for fun, I decided to call the Tiger pen and in a muffled, disguised voice I quickly said, “Get Aguirre up,” and hung up. He got up and started to warm up. It was the 4th inning. They recognized it after a short time and sat him down.

Lots of bullpen pranks went on in those days. The late Moe Drabowsky tried to order Chinese takeout to be deilvered to the bullpen one day. I never imagined things like what happened in last night’s bullpen mix-up could happen with today’s technology. I admire Tony La Russa for being very cool about it after the game. I can only imagine how he felt not having Motte ready to pitch to Napoli instead of “Scrabble.”

Now, “Wash”… Was it really just a gut feeling and you hoped he’d get lucky, or you liked the way the stars were aligned when you allowed Murphy to bat against the lefty? If it was fielded cleanly, it would’ve, should’ve, could’ve been a double play. That would have been an interesting answer to get from him if that happened.

But it didn’t. The Rangers got a break and eventually won the game even after a hit batsman and a walk. And the game ended on a strikeout that could have resulted in all kinds of trouble for Texas, as Mike Napoli had to chase the ball down the first base line and flip it to first for the final out. That ball could have gone in a different direction easily.

All in all…Carpenter pitched well enough to win. Wilson worked his way out a lot of  situations where the Cardinals could have broken the game open and led by a lot. Credit him for that. It’s always an interesting topic: Was it poor hitting or good pitching? The guy is their ace and won 16 games. That didn’t happen by accident…

I think both managers may have interesting decisions to make tonight or tomorrow regarding their starting pitchers, because the early report is that  Game 6 may be postponed and played on Thursday. That would be a nice break for the Cardinals. If it goes seven, Carpenter might be available to start that game. Derek Holland could come back for Texas fresh off his gem on Sunday night.

This baseball is a great game, isn’t it?  Can’t wait to see Game 6, whenever that is played.

Lots of good things in this World Series

A lot of fans on the East Coast are obviously disappointed that the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies are not in the World Series. I don’t think it’s a shock that Texas is in again, but the Cardinals’ stretch run to get in was like the great Zenyatta — a super horse that thrilled us with her late running style last year. There’s always the articles on the TV ratings that indicate not as many fans are interested in the World Series without the big names in it. Well, get over it. The teams that deserve to be there are there and there are a lot of good things happening for baseball.

Those of us that love and appreciate the game to see enjoyable baseball — no matter who the participants are — can’t help it that the bigger market teams with larger fan bases aren’t in it. Neither can the Cardinals or Rangers. In no particular order here are some of the things that have been nice to see in the first four games.

Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are getting some national exposure for the second-straight year. Thet are putting on a great show.

David Freese is healthy and showing why he may be a breakout slugger next year.

Very cool to see a different side of Nolan Ryan. A side that I never saw from the dugout competing against him for over  10 years.

Mike Maddux is the next Dave Duncan.

Not that he needed it, but Albert (Like Reggie,he doesn’t need a last name.) is showing fans what a complete player he is. This isn’t his first rodeo on the national stage, but more and more fans are getting to see what St. Louis and a lot of the NL has seen for a decade. Forget the little blip about not being around to answer for deflecting the relay throw in Game 2. If the East Coast media think he’s too sensitive to handle occasional criticism in those markets, so be it. He belongs in St. Louis anyway.

The Rangers were not a fluke last year. They are very World Series worthy.

Ron Washington is an uninhibited breath of fresh air.

Michael Young is moving up the ladder several more rungs as a Texas sports hero. Plays the game the way we were all taught to play it.

In the first four games, baseball has shown the biggest reason it is different from other games and more unpredictable… Football has the same QB game after game. Hockey the same goalie most of the time. Basketball, the same starting five night after night. But the big reason a team can score 16 runs one night and zero the next is because… drum roll… the starting pitcher. There’s a different one starting every game. I love that about the game.

Being a former pitcher I always enjoyed the challenge of knowing that along with the opposing starter and the home plate umpire you had a chance to influence the outcome of the game more than any other position. You need guys making plays behind you, but we have seen that if you pitch with some energy and are in control of what you’re doing like Chris Carpenter does and Derek Holland did last night and trust your stuff, you can shut down any lineup.

Tony La Russa is showing why he will go into the Hall of Fame as the most visible example of  a “scientific baseball manager” opposed to the ones who are there and went more by instinct like Sparky and Casey and Whitey and Lasorda and Earl. They were prepared and applied some statistical history into their decision-making, but not to the extent that Tony does.

You may not agree with his moves and how he makes more pitching changes than most and I feel is more responsible for controlling the running game from the bench than any other manager — or his serious, studious manner — but the man has his team prepared to exhaust every effort to win until the last out is made. He leaves nothing to chance. He competes from inside. You seldom see it expressed visibly.

Umpires are human. What a shame that one or maybe a few members of the media cast a bad light on that industry by questioning Ron Kulpa’s integrity by referencing that he’s from St. Louis after he missed a call that favored the Cardinals. Will someone please take their credentials away? If baseball can find a way to quickly — and I hope very quickly — to review some calls, we could use replays to get the calls right. It will be better for the game and the umpires. Technology has allowed us to see things we never could see in the past.

This is a wish, not something I’ve enjoyed. Is the FOXTrack or strikezone box we see on our screen 100% accurate? If so, you understand why the home plate umpire’s interpretation of the strike zone is like tonite’s starting pitchers. They’re all different. I’d like to see an endorsement from MLB or the TV networks that use it to verify that is 100% accurate. My understanding is that if one piece of the baseball touches the borders of the strike zone it’s a strike.

Then we’ll be comfortable sitting at home knowing how well the umpire is judging balls and strikes and MLB will be able to help train umpires to improve as home plate umpires and we’ll know if it really is a ball or strike. I see the pitch go over the plate near the letters or knees and the electronic box doesn’t seem to show it the same. The third part of knowing if the box is accurate is it will help me determine if I need another eye test soon!

The pitchers that can get the last six outs are really special in today’s game, even if they do keep managers on the edge of their seat at times (i.e. Feliz in last night’s game). When I played for the Cardinals in 1982 and Whitey Herzog was the manager, he was the first manager I heard say, “I’m going to build my pitching staff from the 9th inning back.” With Bruce Sutter pitching the 9th and occasionally the 8th and 9th, we won the World Series.

Tim McCarver is showing us why he is who he is as a baseball analyst. With insight like telling us: Gene Mauch, longtime big league manager and excellent teacher said ,when an infielder goes to his right, he should try to field the ball with the webbing in his glove, it’s softer… David Freese is playing shallow at third and Kinsler is a pull hitter? Bingo. Kinsler pulls it down the line past him. And many more ‘pearls’ that I’ve been hearing from Tim, He’s the best.

He’s analyzed more World Series games on TV than anyone since games have been televised. Pleased to say I learned a lot from Timmy when I got started analyzing games. I was his teammate for over three years in Philadelphia and we spent a lot of time on the bench talking “IB” , player speak for inside baseball.  That was stuff that became very helpful when I started my announcing career.

I hope the people who vote for the announcers that get inducted into the announcer’s wing of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown vote Tim in this year. He deserves to be there. As fearless and candid and brutally honest and objective in the booth as he was in the dugout and on the field.

HMMM..THIS COULD BE INTERESTING

This World Series might be the most difficult to get an idea of who you would say is favored to win or how it could play out. The players on these teams have not competed against each other very often, some never; nor have the teams. Many Texas Rangers will get their 1st look at Busch Stadium, many Cardinals their 1st look at The Ballpark in Arlington. Advantage: Pitchers in their own park.

Why? Hitters like to feel comfortable at the plate and some of that comfort is the hitters background in center field and how the ball looks to them coming out of the pitchers hand. They’ll get some swings in practice today to get a feel for it. Also, the hitters will be seeing pitchers they haven’t faced very often if ever. Again, advantage pitchers.

A pitcher always has an edge facing a hitter for the 1st few times at bat. [I think we noticed how comfortable the hitters in the NLCS were facing pitchers they had faced a lot this season, what to look for and where to look for it. The starters had to be ‘spot on’ to be effective.]  They haven’t seen how the ball looks coming at them, how their breaking pitches look, judging the speed. A good reason for Pitchers to ‘trust their stuff’ and throw a lot of ‘strike one’s’..get ahead and stay ahead. always a good approach no matter the hitter or the importance of the game.

My best example of experiencing that was the 1965 World Series when I was pitching for the Minnesota Twins and facing the LA Dodgers and hooking up against the greatest pitcher of my baseball lifetime, Sandy Koufax. The scout that signed me, Dick Weincek, was our advance scout. He had some detailed information. I said,”Dick, no disrespect for what you’ve given me but they have never faced me and I’m going with my strengths and not be overly concerned with their weaknesses.”

It worked fine the 1st time I faced them. We won 5-1, I pitched a complete game and my theory worked. A couple of side stories about that series. According to my baseball trivia experts the 1965 series was the last one where every win was a complete game performance by the winning pitcher. Mudcat Grant, myself, Claude Osteen, Don Drysdale, Koufax, Mudcat again and then Koufax again shutting us out on 2 days rest. he also shut us out in game 5. And, to give you an idea of how little national TV exposure baseball had during the regular season and before interleague play began, these games were the 1st time I had ever seen Sandy Koufax pitch in person and only in the 1963 series did I see him on television.

After 3 innings of watching him in game 2, I said to our pitching coach, Johnny Sain, “If I give up a run, this game’s over”. That’s how good he was and I was right. We were fortunate enough to score 1st in game 2 and win but in games 5 & 7, no chance. Both 9 inning complete game shutouts.

Contrast that to my 1982 World Series experience where Mike Caldwell of the Brewers pitched a complete game in game 1 and my teammate, John Stuper pitched a gutsy complete game win in game 6 through a few rain delays. Bruce Sutter was our closer that year and the Hall of Famer did what great closers do and saved game 7 to give us the series win.

Bill Lee, former lefty for the RedSox, quoted Buckminster Fuller during one of our visit years ago when I had mentioned that the complete game was becoming more and more the exception than the rule. The quote, ” Specialization breeds extinction”. And the complete game in world series play has become close to extinct.

So…..this brings us to the 2011 World Series. It seems like the winner will be determined by whose relief pitchers are most effective. The Cardinal relief corps has made an amazing turnaround when you consider all the leads they gave up during the season. Tony La Russa and his pitching coach, Dave Duncan, have been masters at matching up relievers vs. hitters since the 80’s in Oakland when they had Dennis Eckersley to save games and Gene Nelson, Rick Honeycutt, Todd Burns all getting key outs in the last 3 innings to set things up for “Eck”. Ron Washington has moved Ogando into the bullpen where he was last year and he is a great asset for Texas. He can pitch a few innings and be effective against righty’s and lefty’s.

How about these lineups where the LCS MVPs hit at the bottom of the batting order. Deep and powerful lineups with Texas having a little edge when you compare the season stats of both lineups. If one of the starting pitchers figures out how to work through these lineups a couple of times and hold them to a couple runs they could be the series mvp and be responsible for their team winning. If CJ Wilson finds a pattern and some holes in the Cardinal  hitters he can exploit that could be helpful to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison…They’re all lefties. Chris Carpenter is who he is. Tough,seasoned veteran, not intimidated by any hitter. If he’s sharp and wins games 1 and 5, he’s your mvp. So many possibilities. The beauty of post season baseball is it’s so unpredictable. Nolan Ryan, that wily ‘ol fox, has said his Rangers will win in 6. Why would he say that? Because it diverts the attention and pressure from the players to him. He knows what he’s doing.

For me, this is a win-win, happy either way series. I love what the Rangers and Ron Washington and pitching coach, Mike Maddux have done. Mike is on his way to being to “Wash” what Dave Duncan is to LaRussa. I like the way Nolan Ryan has made a decision to take the dreaded pitch count out of play and allow the Texas starters to work out of jams late in the game. I love what the Cardinals have done because from playing there in the early 80’s and being on the 1982 team that won the World Series, I know what a great baseball town St. Louis is, I think of it as more a town than a city;  with classy, passionate fans. Both have ownership groups that carry themselves with dignity.

I hope we get to see great competition which is a trademark of Tony LaRussa’s teams. He preaches competing, every pitch, every at bat, every inning. That’s how they came back from the baseball dead. Texas manager Ron Washington is a guy you can’t help but root for, passionate, openly excited for his players when they do well in a controlled, tasteful manner. I couldn’t root for either of these teams to not win.

The deciding factor could turn out to be the big flaw in determining home field advantage. The NL winning the All Star game. That means more than winning your division and having the best record of the 2 teams? That’s wrong. Hope good baseball men address and change that in the off-season. But, despite that flaw, I’m going to sit back and watch two teams that are there because they deserve to be and watch for those subtle little things that I like to look for that can determine who wins. A pitch here, a play there, a timely hit, a key stolen base. Let the games begin.