Did Tony LaRussa really bring in a reliever just to intentionally walk a batter in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series? In a series that was tied at two games apiece and tied at 2-2 in the eighth inning, did what we see actually happen?
"Well, here was the strategy," explained Joe Buck on the Fox telecast. "LaRussa wanted [Lance] Lynn to come in for the intentional walk and now he's going back to his bullpen."
It's hard to tell when Buck is playing it straight and when he's being glib, but you have to assume he was taking a little jab at LaRussa for making this move, especially after the notoriously trigger-happy manager neglected to put in a right-handed pitcher to face Mike Napoli—who crushed a two-run double off lefty Marc Rzepczynski—just two batters earlier.
Let's be honest, that's the exact kind of thing Tony LaRussa would do, but after the game, LaRussa admitted that it wasn't his intention at all.
To his credit, LaRussa explained the managerial blunder in his postgame press conference by admitting the bullpen didn't hear him right. The stadium was just too darn loud for bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist to hear the correct names LaRussa wanted to get loose. (Watch the video here.)
"Well what happened was that, twice, the bullpen didn't hear [Jason] Motte's name. They heard Rzepczynski and they didn't get Motte and then I looked up there and Motte wasn't going so I called back for Motte and they got Lynn up.
He wasn't supposed to pitch today, so I really wasn't going to let him throw to that hitter. He just threw the warm-ups and walked him and Motte finally was ready.
I don't know if it was noisy…probably really noisy. They just didn't hear, even the second time."
The whole four-minute video runs like an Abbott and Costello routine. LaRussa told reporters he had hoped Rzepczynski would have gotten David Murphy out, then pitched around Napoli to face Mitch Moreland in a more favorable lefty-lefty matchup. LaRussa admitted that Motte would have come in to face Napoli after Rzepczynski failed to retire Murphy, but the bullpen didn't hear him so Motte wasn't ready in time. But that's not even the screwiest part of the story.
"He was available in an emergency. I wasn't going to use him, but if [the bullpen coach] hears 'Lynn,' I'm the manager. What's he going to say, 'hey wait a minute…'
"He had a day off, but like I said, he wasn't going to pitch until Game 6. I mean, I saw the big fella come in and said, 'why are you here?'"
That has to be a huge vote of confidence for a young pitcher stepping onto the mound during the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series with two runners in scoring position: "why are you here?"
So Lynn, who wasn't supposed to throw, ended up doing a full warm-up before an intentional walk, all in an effort to give Motte enough time to get loose to face Elvis Andrus with the bases loaded. Motte got the strikeout to keep the game at a two-run deficit, but the damage was obviously done much earlier in the inning.
We'll never know if Motte would have gotten Napoli had the righty been ready, and we'll certainly never know what ripple effect that would have created during the rest of the inning. One thing we know: what did happen sure is hilarious.
Even Cardinals fans have to think this situation is hilarious. I mean, sure, the miscommunication directly caused your team to lose Game 5 of a World Series that was tied 2-2 and now the Redbirds have to face back-to-back elimination games in order to win the title. But come on! Tony LaRussa was part of one of the biggest managerial gaffes in recent history!
The king of the double switch somehow couldn’t even get his pitching staff right in an American League ballpark. He had a guy who wasn't even supposed to pitch, outside of an emergency situation, come in to intentionally walk a batter because neither the bullpen coach nor the player seemed to know he wasn't supposed to be getting ready.
When LaRussa went to the mound to cal in the righty, he didn't even get the big, bearded reliever he expected. And all this happened because, what, LaRussa mumbles when he talks? The crowd was too loud and the bullpens are too close to the stands? Perhaps a squirrel gnawed through the phone lines? I would have gone with that if I were LaRussa.
If the Cardinals come back and win the World Series, this will go down as one of those quirky things that only happens in baseball. If they end up losing the Series, you'll hear every talking head in St. Louis and every LaRussa apologist across the country demanding a better system than what's in place, as if there's a much better way than a direct, hard-wired phone line from the dugout to the bullpen.
I suppose they could start texting the names, but then LaRussa would have to spell Rzepczynski three times a night.
For now, Tony, when you inevitably go to your bullpen seven times in Game 6, I know you're at home, but make sure to speak up!