By Steve Kallas
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The absurdity of Game 5 of the World Series will probably dwarf “Errorgate” of Game 2 of the World Series (see Kallas Remarks, 10/21/11) if the Cardinals, now down 3-2 to Texas in the 2011 World Series, do not come back to win it all. Let’s take a look at the issues.
THE PLAYS IN THE 7TH AND 9TH INNINGS
In the seventh inning, with the score tied at 2, the great Albert Pujols was at bat with Allen Craig on first. With the count 0-1 on Pujols, Craig took off for second. The pitch was well out of the strike zone and Pujols did not swing at it. Soon-to-be World Series MVP (if Texas wins it all) Mike Napoli easily throws Craig out. Then, not surprisingly, Texas walks Pujols. No runs score.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE 7TH INNING?
So, what happened? Well, we got into this convoluted notion that Albert Pujols, a superstar and a very intelligent baseball player, somehow gave a sign to Craig indicating that he (Pujols) wanted to hit and run with Craig on the next pitch.
Let’s stop right there! It makes no sense, NO SENSE, for an intelligent player of Pujols’ ability to call for such a play. Why? Well, with the count 0-1, there was a better than 50-50 chance that Alexi Ogando, the Texas pitcher, was not going to throw a strike to Pujols in that situation. In addition, if there was a hit-and-run on in Pujols’ mind, wouldn’t he have HAD TO SWING AT THE PITCH? Intro to hit-and-run: the batter has to protect the runner.
Well, Pujols didn’t protect the runner and he was easily thrown out at second (frankly, if Pujols had swung and missed, Craig likely would have been thrown out anyway on a high fastball up and away).
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN THE 7TH INNING?
Here’s what I think really happened: while the national media totally took the Albert-called-a-hit-and-run-from-the batter’s-box angle and ran with it, despite the evidence to the contrary (dumb time to call it, Pujols didn’t even swing at the pitch, Pujols and everybody else all know that he will be walked if Craig does steal second on the play), there’s a much simpler, much better explanation.
According to at least one local report out of St. Louis (The Sports Xchange/ TheCardinalNation.com, reported at scout.com), “Craig said he saw the hit-and-run sign from third-base coach Jose Oquendo. There was a report that Pujols suggested that he had put on the hit-and-run sign. La Russa called it a “mixup.”
Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa seemed to go out of their way to cover for Craig’s mistake. Craig, a second-year major league baseball player with all of 119 games in the majors prior to this post-season, probably made a “rookie” mistake. In his first post-season, he probably didn’t understand the situation; that is, it made no sense to hit-and-run in that situation.
The only alternative is to believe that Albert Pujols would be dumb enough to call the hit-and-run on a 0-1 pitch, knowing that if Craig stole second, he [Pujols] would be walked intentionally. To top it all off, you would also have to believe that the brilliant Pujols, after calling the hit-and-run himself, didn’t swing at the pitch to protect his runner.
Obviously, it is much more likely that an inexperienced player misinterpreted a sign from the third-base coach (where, of course, the overwhelming majority of hit-and-run signs come from), ran unprotected and was easily thrown out.
If that is what happened (and this writer certainly believes that that is exactly what happened), both Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa are even more liked and respected in their clubhouse (if that’s possible) for covering for a young player’s mistake.
WHAT HAPPENED AND WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN THE 9TH INNING?
Well, that’s much easier. You know the situation: Allen Craig on first (again), Albert Pujols up, this time with a 3-2 count. On three consecutive pitches, Craig takes off for second.
You can understand why: Albert Pujols is an excellent contact hitter. In 651 plate appearances this regular season, he only struck out 58 times, excellent numbers for a modern day power hitter. In this World Series, Pujols had not struck out in his first 22 plate appearances.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, after two 3-2 foul balls, Pujols swung and missed at a ball well off the plate, Napoli threw Craig out (again) and the Rangers went on to win the game and go up 3-2 in the Series.
Sound baseball strategy that backfired on the rare swing and miss (and even rarer swing and miss at a ball) by Albert Pujols.
WHAT ABOUT “PHONEGATE?”
A little more unclear, but it’s hard to believe that a Hall of Fame manager had no idea that his star closer in a close World Series game wasn’t warming up not once, but twice. The later mix-up, with Lance Lynn coming in instead of closer Jason Motte, was irrelevant to the outcome of the game. So we will just focus on the first.
Bottom 8, tie game, Tony La Russa brings in his good lefty reliever, Marc Rzepczynski, to pitch to lefty David Murphy, with first and second, one out. You could see that nobody else was warming up in the bullpen when Rzepczynski got the call, despite the fact that, later, La Russa said he had told the bullpen to start warming up Motte.
But when Rzepczynski came in the game, analyst Tim McCarver told the national audience that La Russa had told him the night before that he [McCarver] shouldn’t be surprised if “I [La Russa] bring in Rzepczynski to pitch to righties.”
This quote is what the conspiracy theorists point to when they believe that La Russa simply left Rzepczynski in to pitch to lefty (Murphy), righty (Mike Napoli, who gets the game-winning hit off of the lefty reliever) and then lefty (Mitch Moorland) (and full credit to Ron Washington for changing his lineup to lefty-righty-lefty rather than back-to-back lefty hitters).
It sure seemed like that’s what La Russa wanted to do in that situation. Nobody else was warming up. Nobody (player, manager, coach) came out to the mound to either talk to Rzepczynski about pitching to the righty or to give any reliever (Lynn, Motte) time to warm up.
While many apparently saw and/or heard La Russa say to Lynn (who came in after the damage was done) “What are you doing here?” the game was, essentially, over by then.
In La Russa’s defense, there are reports that you can’t see the visitor’s bullpen from the visitor’s dugout in Texas. Former superstar pitching coach Leo Mazzone, long after the game, said he never ended a bullpen conversation until the guy in the bullpen repeated what Mazzone had said to him. Excellent manager Buck Showalter said, correctly, that there has to be uniform quality control with bullpen phones throughout baseball.
And, also very interestingly, either before the World Series started or before it switched to Texas, Tony La Russa was asked a technology question by a reporter (couldn’t find his name) relating to the ancient technology of calling a bullpen on a phone in 2011. Everybody laughed when La Russa said that he “wasn’t prepared for that one” and proceeded to just state that whatever is there is there in terms of technology.
But after this phone fiasco, it makes you wonder: I-Pads all around? Instant Messaging from the pitching coach? Smoke signals?
It would seem that, based on this debacle, any means would have been better than what was used.
Having said all of that, I believe, based on what Tim McCarver said that La Russa had said the night before, that the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, a future Hall-of famer, was comfortable with his lefty (Marc Rzepczynski) pitching to their righty (Mike Napoli).
Game, and maybe World Series, over.
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