Game 5 was the fault of the Cardinal hitters. Had someone--anyone--managed a hit with runners in scoring position manager Tony La Russa's bullpen managing would have been marginalized. As fate would have it, though, La Russa took center stage with a display of either drunkenness, hubris, or complete ineptitude.
The eighth inning of Game 5 of the 2011 World Series will go down as the worse-managed in franchise history. With the game, like the series, tied 2-2 La Russa called upon his bullpen for the first time in the game. In came Octavio Dotel who was rudely greeted by Michael Young who laced a double to the right-center field gap. Dotel then blew Adian Beltre away on three pitches with the K coming on an eye-high 95-MPH heater. With one out and the go-ahead runner standing on second base, La Russa transformed Rangers Ballpark into a theatre of the absurd.
A coaching visit to the mound communicated the managerial order to intentionally walk Nelson Cruz. Dotel has been a brutal force against right-handed batters not named Yuni Betancourt this postseason and Cruz is prone to the strikeout. Nonetheless the manager elected to put another runner on. Dotel struggled to lob intentional balls in the air to Molina's mitt but managed to do La Russa's bidding. Now with runners on first and second with one out La Russa called on Marc Rzpeczynski.
A grounder that bounced off the lefty loaded the bases and the Cardinals found themselves in an absurd predicament: lefty reliever vs. Mike Napoli with the bases loaded. The Ranger catcher posted a 1.046 OPS this season, which led the Rangers. Rzepczynski for his career had allowed an OPS 211 points higher against righties than lefties. Yet he was the pitcher chosen by La Russa to face one of the game's best right-handed sluggers. The results were teeth-gnashingly predictable. Aided and abetted by La Russa's bullpen management, Napoli launched a double into the Texas night, dashing the hopes and dreams of Cardinals fans for a 3-2 World Series lead.
After the Napoli double La Russa took us into the realm of the surreal. The manager replaced Rzepczynski with Lance Lynn--previously reported as unavilable--who was then ordered to issue another intentional walk. After Lynn successfully issued the free pass by throwing a mere four lob balls he was immediately pulled by the manager for Jason Motte in one of the most absurd bullpen machinations in the history of baseball. (Why not just leave Rzepczynski in to issue the intentional walk? Bringing in Lynn was completely unnecessary!) Motte ended the inning with such dominance that one could not help but wonder how La Russa did not bring him in to face Napoli two batters earlier.
La Russa was not done with bizarre managerial decisions, however. On an evening during which he graciously gave the Rangers three outs via the sacrifice bunt, he apparently thought it wise to hand over a fourth in the top of the ninth. After Allen Craig was fortuitously hit by a Neftali Feliz fastball, the manager decided to give the young slugger the green light on a full count pitch to Albert Pujols. The result: a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play that ensured Matt Holliday would not represent the tying run at the plate during his subsequent plate appearance.
Tony La Russa has much to answer for after this game. Sadly, if the Cardinal bats had come through a time or two earlier in the game, La Russa likely would not have mattered tonight.