Our Sunday spot is still in flux, so I apologize for an unduly brief front page post after Saturday afternoon (and Saturday night's) interminable action.
It's no more than three or four games a year where a manager's in-game decisions are clearly the major influence on the outcome, and as a result these always take an outsized share of influence on our idea of a manager's value. We talked about that on several occasions in the off-season; I'll link this excerpt we ran from Evaluating Baseball's Managers as representative of that discussion, rather than going into it again.
Suffice it to say that I think Tony La Russa is a great manager, perhaps the best of all time, and I also think that his decision to go to the position players so early, while entertaining, cost the Cardinals a clean shot at a win as the home team in an extra inning game. It's no coincidence that the English language's go-to "can't-win-'em-all" metaphor is the aphorism about the best baseball players making an out seven times out of ten; baseball has the longest games, the longest seasons, the longest careers—the best players and managers have serious failures on their records, and lots of them.
For La Russa, this is one of them. The hitters were very conspicuously absent, of course, and I have no doubt that Duncan and La Russa were both very firm with Mather about avoiding the upper half of the zone, which he did not. But whatever meager resources the Cardinals had last night, La Russa mismanaged them.
What it comes down to, for me, is this: using a pitcher out of the rotation might make him fractionally worse in his next start. I don't know that it will or won't, but we can assume that it will. But in that next start the difference between him and this overworked version of himself is less than the difference between him and Joe Mather, especially when the game becomes sudden-death overtime for the team on the road. The Cardinals had a chance to take advantage of baseball's home-skewed extra-innings system—one in which that hypothetical starter's one inning is vastly more important to the outcome than any one inning he pitches day-after-tomorrow. That's what sucks.
So La Russa, as a hitter, went 0-4 with a couple of strikeouts. As a pitcher it would be one of those five innings four earned-run nights—somebody else still has to lose the game, but he didn't put them in the best position to win. He'll get back out there tomorrow.
After the jump: positivity. Jaime Garcia pitched beautifully, and the game we saw, however frustrating, was the kind of novelty that makes a long season a little shorter. Take a look at this box score—which is broken, in the line score area; nice job, everybody!—and tell me there isn't something worth grinning at (if in a world-weary, I-just-read-Catch-22 kind of way.)
- Jaime Garcia: he's really awesome. Yesterday, in an "I... am not left-handed" moment, Garcia brought out the go-to curveball that he'd been perfectly fine without in his first start and used it to retire right-handed batters who probably do not typically have problems with lefty breaking stuff. But to call this The Curveball Start is to gloss over the long stretches of game during which he needed little more than a fastball and a changeup. Garcia's stuff has never impressed scouts—he's been a Number Three Starter from the day he emerged as a prospect—but he is obviously, visibly confident in it.
- The bullpen: they didn't suck! They were really good, even; in future-closer-watch news, Jason Motte has now gone 4 2/3 innings with four strikeouts since getting beaten up in his first two starts. As someone who has not yet been able to see the Cardinals on TV New Motte is a truly enigmatic figure; his fastball hasn't lost a step, as the two consecutive 97 mph swinging strikes to Jason Bay prove, but rather than work on his second pitch (which he's also begun to use frequently) he's started varying the speed on it, and it appears to be working. Rather than use the capital-F fastball as his only pitch, he seems to have started using it mostly in strikeout counts. For a converted catcher, he's getting pretty smart out there, and it's good to see. McClellan, Boggs, and Hawksworth all staked claims on their spots, as well; altogether the Cardinals' justifiably worrisome right-handers struck out nine batters in eight scoreless innings. Of course, having seen all this great relief work being used up in front of him has to concern Adam Wainwright, a little.
- Yadier Molina! He's the best! After five or six hours in a position that would leave me unable to walk, or rise to a sitting position, Yadier Molina threw out a basestealer and tied the game with a line drive to right field. I'd be excited to see Bryan Anderson play an entire game anyway, but after seven hours he's earned a day off today.
- Dinger-Camp-Watch: No dingers, unfortunately, but the Cardinals did walk 11 times against 69 at-bats on Saturday, without which it would have been impossible to strand a million baserunners.