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I Left My Best Bat in San Francisco

How funny, that once again, an important moment comes down to a centerfielder coming up, against a pitcher with a nasty curveball, with the bases loaded and two outs, and the home team trailing, but within reach, in the bottom of the 9th.

Except that this time, the fates conspired against Tony La Russa and his allegedly brilliant decision-making.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I was wrong in my assessment that Billy Wagner should close out the 9th inning for the National League. Unlike the 3 Mets batsmen, who all did something significant, Wagner did a lousy job with what he was assigned to do. But so did La Russa, who may have forgotten that this time, it counts. His neighbor in Kansas City, Herman Edwards, would do well to remind him: You play to win the game.

If you had taken a poll of the entire NL roster, or maybe even the whole National League, as to which hitter you'd want up with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 9th, down by one run, Albert Pujols would have gotten a lot of votes. Ken Griffey Jr. probably would have gotten a few. Aaron Rowand would have gotten one vote. His own.

Now, La Russa should have pulled the trigger with Orlando Hudson (interestingly, in Carlos Beltran's spot in the order) at the plate, but he didn't, and it worked out. With the bases loaded, there's no reason to keep Pujols on the bench. K-Rod isn't going to walk him. And a hit, with two outs, almost certainly wins the game.

But instead, La Russa fell asleep at the switch, Pujols sat, and Rowand batted. That Rowand was in the game at this point is also an interesting discussion. Ken Griffey Jr. was swinging a hot bat. Could he not have lasted nine innings? It's not like he has anything left to play for, from a team perspective this season. Perhaps in the future, it would be worth it to have fans vote on who finishes, not who starts, a game (That could just be bitterness, but at 3am, it seems like a good idea).

If La Russa really thinks that Pujols is the best hitter in baseball (and yes, he's in the worst HR slump of his career), he has a funny way of showing it. Does La Russa not remember Pujols' HR vs Brad Lidge when the Cardinals were down to their last out in the 2005 NLCS? Or the double that Pujols hit to walk-off against Lidge in a similar situation (except there were 2 on and 2 out in the 9th) last season? Or Pujols' .368 career batting average with the bases loaded? Albert Pujols has ended 10 walk-off wins with RBI in his career. Aaron Rowand has ended three. That's a big disparity. Yes, Pujols is in this huge power slump, but all that was needed was a base hit. In his last 22 regular season games, Pujols hasn't homered, but he is hitting a rather robust .329, 45 points better than Rowand in his last 22. And yet, La Russa still had the gall to say after the game: "I think we had the right guy at bat."

Instead, in the heat of the moment, and La Russa prides himself on being the most prepared person in the world at making decisions under these circumstances, the NL manager made a poor decision and his team paid the price. And once again, Mets fans were left watching, with their mouths agape, astonished at how something as important as home-field advantage in the World Series could slip through their grasp.

Comments

Ian said…
As much as it pains me to make an easy Tony La Russa drunk joke, I can think of no other explanation for why he would tell Buck and McCarver that he was saving Pujols for a big spot, no matter who was due up, and then not view two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded as fitting that criteria. That wasn't a bad call; it was a cry for help.

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