The Paquette Sequences: A Tony La Russa Thriller: Based on the Novel Squeeze by Tony La Russa

ATLANTA - FILE: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on September 9 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. It was announced that the St. Louis Cardinals and their first baseman Albert Pujols failed to reach a contract agreement by Pujols' self-declared deadline leaving open the chance he will become a free agent after this season February 16 2011. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The call comes in round ten o'clock this morning: Kyle McClellan won't be able to go today. Tony La Russa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, gets up off the couch and removes his sunglasses. He says: "Looks like this lineup's—on the line." He puts his sunglasses back on. Dave Duncan scowls and starts watching video again. 

Tony's old lineup was boring. Allen Craig at second base; Pete Kozma at short; Tyler Greene in center. This new one would need a little zip—something to get the team to play a Hard Nine, or at least a difficult nine. But first he had to break the news to the bullpen. 

"Guys, Kyle can't go—you know Kyle, he's in the rotation, kind of orange-ish hair—and I know none of you guys could possibly make a start, because the very idea is ridiculous. Jason," he says, pointing at the man in the corner, "I'm going to need you to make a bullpen start. You'll also be... initiating the wheel." 

Nobody but Jason Motte seems to know what Tony is talking about. But as soon as Tony's italics roll off his tongue Jason stops making his glove talk with his hand and a serious look slides across his face, his actual face. "I understand, boss," he says. "Initiating the wheel," his glove says. Mitchell Boggs rolls his eyes. 

 

10:15: The Paquette Sequences

There's two hours to game time and Tony's work seems just about done. Doc Paletta says his symptoms could be an early indicator of Eye Vapours, the serious kind, and he should really be resting. Closing both eyes and slipping out for a nap in the Champions Club, before the ushers realize he doesn't have a ticket. That's when Dave Duncan bursts into his office.

"What is it, Dave?" Tony asks. "Tell me—I gotta know. Don't spare me, let me—" 

Dave suddenly looks exasperated over something. "No outfielders," he mumbles. "Colby's hurt, Lance's hurt, Matt's hurt. Getaway lineup, probably. I'm going to go eat lunch." 

But before he can leave Tony's on his feet. "No outfielders!" he says. 

"Please don't make a big—" Dave looks like he's about to say something, but he breaks eye contact suddenly and walks out the door. "I heard the microwave go off."

"No outfielders!" Tony says. He draws the shades closed. Looking gleefully over his shoulder he presses a button at the center of his desk.

Things happen all at once. Blackboards emerge from behind posters of Mike Gallego. His file cabinets open horizontally, revealing diagrams and charts, some of them yellowed with age, stacked atop each other like layers of sediment. From a hole in his desk emerges, carried up from behind what appears to be a locked desk drawer, a manuscript titled The Paquette Sequences. He looks at it.

There's a new look on his face, now, or an old one—one that transcends baseball, one that reaches toward the heights and depths of all human ambition. He says: "Hello, old friend."

10:30: Taking Action

Jason Motte has been staring out over Busch Stadium's field for fifteen minutes when Tony emerges from the dugout, clipboard in hand. "I've—initiated the wheel," he says. 

"Thanks, Jason. Go stand out on the pitcher's mound." Tony looks up and continues: "Everyone—get out there. The infield-out position, just like we've practiced it. Variation B." 

"Is that the one where I—"

"Kyle, you're not even supposed to be here today," Daniel Descalso says. He walks to third base.

They fan out from there. Motte stands at attention on the pitcher's mound; Pete Kozma walks tentatively to the shortstop position, and Allen Craig and Albert Pujols fill out the right side of the infield. In the outfield stand Mark Hamilton, Jon Jay, and Tyler Greene. Yadier Molina crouches down at catcher.

"Albert," Tony says, a smile playing at his Italianate features. "You said you were ready to play third if we needed it, right?" 

"Jyou know I ang." 

"Jason," Tony says, "You said you were ready for real work. Ready to do whatever it takes."

"I did."

"Activate the wheel."

"Sir," Jason's glove says, "It's—those were just theories, after all. We're playing with people's lives, here."

"Do as the man said," Jason says. He walks sixty feet, six inches to home plate and takes Yadier Molina's helmet. 

Jason Motte's glove understands now what has always worried it about Tony La Russa's smile. It is not a cruel smile but an indifferent one, not beyond emotion but above it. 

 

10:15: The Realization

Craig Paquette lives a normal suburban life. He drives a sensible Honda—takes his kids to soccer practice, school dances. His life looks effortless, but in reality it's all he's ever worked for—all he's about to throw away.

The phone call comes in on his perfectly normal RAZR. Caller ID says "CLUBHOUSE." The normal part of him wants to turn the ringer off, let it go to voicemail, continue mowing his lawn. But maybe he'll never be normal. Maybe that's just the lie he lives.

"How did you get this number?" Paquette says. "I told you I'm finished talking. You've got the wrong man." 

The voice on the other end, disguised by some kind of filter, says: "It's happening, Craig. You must have seen the signs.

"The only signs I see anymore are for the Neighborhood Watch, friend. I'm a normal man now—a family man. I've put it all behind me. I only play one role at a time." 

"Have you? Or is that just the lie you live?

"You bastard—I've given this organization too much. This cause. I'm sucked dry, and what for? Call Miles if you want to chat, there's a perfectly normal school party coming up and I've got to order some pizzas. From a chain." 

"I don't want to chat, Paquette. I want to end it. Today. The vichy Pettini administration has lowered the fanbase's guard. The outfielders are limping. He's running the sequences... I'm already compromised." 

When the line goes out Paquette knows what he'll have to do. It's just not for some people to live a normal life. Some of us tab ourselves for extraordinary things. Some of us are tabbed by others to make the world normal for the rest of us. He gets into his car even though he knows he'll have to speed. 

 

11:00: The Reckoning

"Albert," Tony says. Albert is kneeling between the pitcher's mound and home plate, wearing two gloves but no cap. "You said you were ready to play third if we needed it, right?"

"Jyou—jyou know I ang."

"Look, Tony," Daniel shouts, crouching behind the right fielder, "you're going to ruin him, you've got to—"

From his stepladder in front of the center fielder Allen Craig interrupts. "You can end this, Jason! You can end it all right now if you just get out of those rollerblades and say it's over!" 

"It's never over!" Tony roars. "Is it, Jason? The wheel is in motion! The wheel must roll."

"The wheel is in motion," Jason drones. "The wheel must roll. Put on the catcher's gear, Albert."  

Albert begins moonwalking to home plate as instructed, but before Mark McGwire can remove his mask there's a commotion in the dugout and Paquette emerges, a detonator hanging ominously from his right hand. 

"Craig," Tony says. "I never thought you'd show your face here again. Not since—" 

"I'm just a normal man," Paquette says. "I was pushed here. There's dissent in your ranks."

"It can't be," Tony says, "It can't—I've sent Jose Oquendo home for the day. I fired Marty, I falsified Jim's medical records, I convinced Ricky Horton that Jay Randolph never existed. You're lying. You're lying to yourself.

There are a few endless seconds of silence in the morning sun when there's the sound of a rollerbladed struggle near the first base coach's box. Jason Motte has his glove-hand by the wrist, like he's trying to catch something in a way that pleases Al Hrabosky, when an iPhone slides out of his glove and lands in the dirt with a thud. 

"There's terror beneath those sunglasses, Tony, I know it. And there should be. The Paquette sequences end today. They end forever. I've wired your office. You can thank Jason Motte's glove for the coordinates." 

"You fool! Destroying the Paquette sequences is like trying to destroy geometry. They're too beautiful, too natural—they're written on the stars and in the constellations that shine brightest out of position. They'll outlive us both." 

Paquette rolls the detonator in his fingers. "You remember what you told me, Tony!?" he shouts, his voice cracking. 

Tony narrows his other eye. "I told you you said you were ready to play second, if we needed it." 

"You made me live a lie, Tony," Paquette says, "and it ends this morning. Not everybody can play second base." 

 

10:57: The Mole

"Dunc," Paquette says, "we need to act quickly—I have reason to believe the Secret Weapon has been compromised.

Duncan continues cutting his Hot Pocket. "Jose's on vacation. Look, do you need something? If it gets cold it just becomes a Regular Pocket." 

"You're right, Dunc, we need to act natural—this place is wired for sound. I'm going to ask you very casually for the key to Tony La Russa's office, and you're going to give me, very casually, the key to Tony La Russa's office."

"Look," Duncan says. "Just don't try to give it back to me when you're done, or anything."

"Right—" Paquette says. "—You were never here." 

"I don't—" Duncan says. "I don't even know what that could mean. I'm sitting in front of you, trying to eat my lunch, right now. Just go do whatever and tell Tony the ARF people have been trying to call him for the better part of an hour." 

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