Albert Pujols logged the greatest single-game performance in World Series history. David Freese became hometown hero to generations of St. Louis Cardinals fans to come. Mike Napoli of the Texas Rangers had the best Series in recent memory in a losing cause. Chris Carpenter proved his mettle as a leader and an ace with three gutty performances, despite the heaviest seasonal workload any pitcher has borne since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001.
The real story of the 2011 World Series, though, was management, or rather, gross mismanagement. At every turn, Tony La Russa of the Cardinals and Ron Washington of the Rangers forced their teams to overcome some of the worst in-game tactical decisions in years.
At times, they made Bob Brenly (who managed Johnson and Schilling in 2001 and until now held safely the title of worst World Series skipper) look like Earl Weaver. Here are their 25 worst gaffes, ranked by severity.
The Cardinals got the nonsensical one-run strategy party started midway through Game 1. After C.J. Wilson walked Rafael Furcal to start the fifth inning, La Russa ordered Jon Jay to lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Jay did as he was told, and Furcal did reach second on the play. He would go no further. Albert Pujols was predictably (though wrongly) intentionally walked, and Matt Holliday bounced into a double play to end the inning.
If nothing else, La Russa ought to have known Pujols would simply be put on base. He should have thought more about it and realized that Pujols has too much power for it to matter very much whether Furcal were on first or second base with him at the plate.
Too often, though, managers manage to avoid embarrassment. Pujols led the league in double plays grounded into this season, and La Russa used that information for much more than it is really worth.
Ron Washington played Yorvit Torrealba against every left-handed starting pitcher he could down the stretch and in the postseason, benching him only in Game 2 against Jaime Garcia in order to keep Mike Napoli's bat in the lineup under National League rules.
That's fine. In fact, choosing Napoli in Game 2 showed healthy restraint on the part of Washington. When it came time to fill out the lineup card for Game 3, however, Washington forgot himself. He got too wrapped up in playing the hot hand, slotting in Torrealba against right-handed Kyle Lohse and moving Mike Napoli out to first base.
Left on the bench was Mitch Moreland, whose .806 career OPS against right-handed hurlers is over .100 better than Torrealba's and who plays by far the best defense at that position of any Ranger.
Torrealba had two hits and a walk. Maybe that's more than Moreland would have given Texas; maybe not. It's a good bet, though, that Moreland also would not have made the two-run throwing error Napoli made to crack the game open for St. Louis. In fact, since the Rangers originally wanted Moreland as a pitcher, he would very likely have gotten a critical out on that play.
To reiterate, with Albert Pujols at the plate, any one-run offensive strategy is folly. An attempted steal is an undue risk, even if it is part of a hit-and-run. This move would rate even higher on the Brenly scale of boneheaded managing if it weren't for the fact that Pujols himself put the play on.
Even so, La Russa gets some blame. He needs to know when to put a firm red light on. For the game's preeminent micro-manager, this laissez faire moment was as surprising as it was damaging.
As soon as eventual World Series MVP David Freese scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 2, one could see the wheels turning for La Russa. He removed Freese on the spot, replacing him with defensive specialist Daniel Descalso in the top of the eighth frame.
The theory was clear. Descalso could stop a key hit from happening, perhaps helping St. Louis preserve its lead.
The ball didn't find Descalso in the top of the eighth, however, and when he saw his first action of the game, it was at the plate. He came to bat with two on and two outs, a great chance to break the game open. Instead, he grounded out weakly to first base.
It sure would have been nice to have Freese in to provide those insurance runs, because the Rangers scored twice in the top of the ninth inning to win the game. Descalso did get a ball down to third. It came from Adrian Beltre, batting right after Michael Young had driven home the winning tally with a sacrifice fly.
Game 1 was tied after five frames, and Ian Kinsler put the Rangers in a fine position to take the lead with a lead-off single in the sixth. Washington promptly quashed his own rally, though, by asking Elvis Andrus to bunt Kinsler over to second.
It got the job done, but like almost all successful sacrifices, it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Was this bunt more damaging than the first because it showed such a lack of a learning curve from Washington? Or was it simply more frustrating?
Either way, with Kinsler aboard in the fifth inning and the game (and therefore Series) very much in the balance, there was Andrus, laying down another telegraphed bunt that didn't even pressure the Cardinals defense or promise the chance of a bunt hit.
Texas did not score, then or at any point afterward.
It seemed a serious foible to carry Matt Treanor on the World Series roster. Three-deep catching crews went out with 10-man pitching staffs. Still, it made a modicum of sense for one reason. Thanks to having Treanor around, the Rangers could easily use Yorvit Torrealba to pinch hit against left-handed pitching.
Alas, Ron Washington didn't even take that modest advantage when it was offered to him. He carefully guarded Torrealba through the first two games, exactly as he would have if he had only Napoli and Torrealba with whom to work.
The most egregious and costly exemplar of that came in Game 1, when Washington sent up Esteban German with two on and two outs in the seventh inning of a one-run game. That alone may have cost Texas a run, and it left astute observers wondering: Was this why the Rangers left Yoshinori Tateyama and Leonys Martin off the Series roster?
The Rangers led by one run heading into the top of the fifth inning in Game 5. Quickly, though, the Cardinals started a rally. Two straight singles had the tying run in scoring position with nobody out, and the top of the order was due for St. Louis.
La Russa should have been wise enough to play for the lead on the road. Even if he were fixated on tying things up, though, he did not need to bunt in this spot. A Furcal double play would still leave Allen Craig at bat, a left-handed pitcher on the mound and the critical run 90 feet from home plate. Any number of better things could have happened, too.
Instead, La Russa ordered the bunt, and Furcal executed well. So did C.J. Wilson. He struck out Craig, walked Albert Pujols to load the bases and got Matt Holliday out to escape unscathed.
Speaking of that inning, part of Wilson's escape was to walk Pujols to load the bases. It drew little criticism, largely because analysts and fans were so mesmerized by Pujols' Game 3 display as to forget all else.
Consider, though, what Wilson was doing. If Pujols was a bit more of a threat to go deep, Holliday (with his .419 OBP for the postseason) was a huge threat to widen the Cardinal lead in one way or another. By loading the bases, Washington not only brought Holliday to bat, but erased Wilson's margin for error. He was very lucky his ace lefty saved him.
By the time Game 6 even reached extra innings, the Cardinals had virtually no one left on their bench. Obviously, it didn't come back to bite them, as they went on to win the game, but they were working without a safety net after a strange eighth-inning sequence.
In the bottom of the frame, Allen Craig blasted a solo home run to pull the Cards within two runs. Derek Holland got Lance Berkman ahead of Craig, and Freese behind him. With two outs, though, Yadier Molina singled to bring the tying run to the plate. La Russa called upon Gerald Laird to pinch hit.
At that point, Ron Washington called upon Mike Adams to relieve Holland. It was the natural call, one unrelated to La Russa's decision to substitute Laird into the game. It shouldn't have affected La Russa in the least.
It did. La Russa called on Daniel Descalso to immediately replace Laird at the plate. It probably gave St. Louis a small upgrade in on-base probability, but a very small one. Descalso did get a hit, though the Cardinals did not score.
The biggest problem with La Russa's rationale, though, is not the simple numbers game. It is the question of whether the eighth inning was the right time to empty the bench anyway. After Descalso's hit, Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal batted. No two starters in the series were worse at the plate.
Descalso extended the inning, but hardly extended the chances of scoring, and in exchange for the tiny advantage, the Cardinals gave away Laird—and their last bit of available depth.
La Russa steadfastly refused to label Motte his closer throughout the playoffs, though since he went to Motte in all the usual situations and a few more, no one was sure why.
They saw why in Game 2. The Cardinals held a 1-0 lead in the ninth when Motte took over. Two batters later, Motte was gone, and the lead had only grown more precarious. The two hits Motte gave up to Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus were hardly stinging liners. Still, there they were, and La Russa must have decided Motte did not have it that night.
Either that, or La Russa called in Arthur Rhodes simply because both he and Josh Hamilton are left-handed. Hamilton's groin injury totally neutralized him early in the Series, and should not have had La Russa nervous enough to send his closer to the showers before the lead was even gone.
He did, though. Rhodes gave the lead away. Lance Lynn gave the tie away. La Russa gave the game away.
Fernando Salas threw only 15 pitches in Game 3. Octavio Dotel threw 23. Jason Motte had not pitched at all. Any of the three was available in the sixth inning of Game 4, when La Russa watched Edwin Jackson walk two batters before pulling him in a critical situation.
Leverage Index, a statistical expression of the importance of any given plate appearance relative to an average one (1.00 being average), measured Mike Napoli's upcoming at bat at 1.80, the fourth-most important of the game to that point. Given playoff pitcher usage patterns, that was enough to demand the absolute best pitcher available. The situation was measurably crucial. La Russa called upon Mitchell Boggs.
No disrespect to Boggs, but that was the wrong choice. On the right-handed depth chart for the Cardinals bullpen, all three of those listed above should have been higher than Boggs. He was a mop-up man, pitching with a pivotal World Series game on the line. Napoli homered, thoroughly punishing La Russa for his error.
This moment came immediately after the Rangers nailed Allen Craig on the aforementioned hit-and-run gone awry. The bases were left empty, with two out and the game tied. For some unfathomable reason, that was reason enough for Washington to order a free pass for Pujols.
The walk put the tying run aboard for a very good hitter, and indeed, Matt Holliday slashed such a long single that Pujols nearly scored, and Holliday took second base on the throw in. That drew another intentional walk, this time to Lance Berkman, and the Rangers wriggled off the hook on a David Freese fly out. The Berkman walk, by the way, made a ton of sense. Kudos for that one to Washington. He needn't have even been in that situation, though.
The eighth inning of Game 5 represented arguably the worst protracted situation management in World Series history, and surprisingly little of it can be blamed on a bullpen phone. The part that can, though, goes like this.
After (sort of) weathering a dizzying Rangers rally, Marc Rzepczynski successfully struck out Mitch Moreland, ending the sequence of left-right-left in the Rangers order that had bedeviled La Russa so badly he lost all rational sense earlier in the frame. Now, Ian Kinsler was due up, and La Russa headed to the mound to collect Rzepczynski and replace him with Jason Motte.
Motte was not warmed up. He had gotten up late, the result of an alleged problem communicating between the dugout and bullpen phones when La Russa called out to instruct his bullpen coach. Therefore, La Russa was forced to bring in Lance Lynn, whom he had no intention of using due to his heavy Game 3 workload.
He ordered Lynn to walk Kinsler intentionally, got Motte into the game to gas Elvis Andrus and moved past the inning. This was crummy management, but more an odd moment than anything else. The damage was long done when it all took place.
Derek Holland had no business being in Game 6 yet when the top of the seventh inning rolled around. We can discuss why later on. For now, let's focus on the decision to let Holland bat for himself.
The inning began with a pair of solo home runs by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz. After a strikeout, David Murphy then singled, bringing the pitcher's spot to bat with a man on base and one out.
Washington had Mitch Moreland, Endy Chavez, Esteban German and Yorvit Torrealba available on the bench. He could have asked any one of them to bat in the pinch and try to sustain the rally Murphy had just renewed.
Instead, Washington sent Holland to bat. There is mistake No. 1. He then ordered Holland to lay down a sacrifice bunt, which Holland looked fundamentally uncomfortable doing. Mistake No. 2: Holland bunted into a fielder's choice, taking Murphy's place at first base.
He reached second himself on a wild pitch and eventually scored, but the exchange still might have actually cost Texas. When Holland went back to the mound in the bottom of the seventh, it was immediately clear that running the bases had affected him.
Game 5 was tied 2-2 going into the eighth inning. Yadier Molina led off the frame with a single, putting the go-ahead run on base. Ryan Theriot was due next.
Theriot is no power hitter, to be sure. He is an inside-out, inside-the-ball push artist, the sort of extreme ground-ball hitter who scares some managers (La Russa types, especially) every time he bats with a man on first base. La Russa perpetually feared the double play in this Series and asked Theriot to bunt Molina over to avoid bouncing into one then and there.
Theriot's bunt worked, to whatever extent a bunt can work without a defensive gaffe. Molina moved up to second base with one out. Nick Punto and Rafael Furcal combined to move him no farther. The inning ended without a run.
Again, La Russa mishandled this inning to an extent perhaps unmatched by anyone in World Series history. It started with this choice.
Michael Young doubled off Octavio Dotel to lead off the bottom of the eighth, putting the tying run in scoring position. Dotel bore down, though, and fanned Adrian Beltre for the first out. That brought Nelson Cruz to the plate.
Cruz had a lot of home runs this postseason. He has a lot of power. He justifiably intimidated La Russa, if not Dotel.
La Russa had to talk Dotel into intentionally walking Cruz. It was apparent both in Dotel's body language and in the way he lollipopped the ball in to Molina en route to giving Cruz first base. Dotel was right; his skipper was wrong.
Dotel was murder on right-handed batters this season. He has a sweeping, nasty slider designed carefully to make those players lunge and miss on balls out of the strike zone. Cruz is the perfect batter for Dotel to go after and get out. Instead, La Russa demanded Cruz be put on base, then removed Dotel.
Here's another good reason to raise an eyebrow at Holland's plate appearance in the top of the seventh inning of Game 6. Holland need not have been in the game, because in the bottom of the sixth, Washington brought him into a situation that screamed for Gonzalez.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Jon Jay was due. Jay bats left-handed, which obviously made him a friendly matchup for a southpaw like Holland.
Gonzalez would have been an even better match for Jay. He is a lefty specialist and could have gotten Jay, then gotten out of the way and allowed a pinch hitter to do damage in the top of the following inning.
For that matter, Gonzalez could have pitched two or three other times during the game. Why Scott Feldman was not pulled with Lance Berkman up and the game on the line in the 10th inning will always be a mystery to me. Gonzalez could have turned Berkman to his weaker side and gotten the final out of the Series, neatly validating the deal that brought him to Texas from Baltimore in August.
Scott Feldman was on the mound in the fifth inning of Game 7, and he was struggling with command. He got Ryan Theriot to open the frame, but then walked Allen Craig and plunked Albert Pujols. A Lance Berkman groundout brought David Freese to bat with runners on second and third base, just one out from escaping the inning.
For some reason, Ron Washington did not trust Feldman to get Freese. Instead of going after him, Washington ordered Feldman to walk Freese and load the bases for Yadier Molina.
Molina is a weaker batter than Freese, but only very slightly. He came to bat, thanks to that tactic, with the bases loaded, leaving Feldman no room for error. Feldman promptly reminded his manager of the speciousness of the decision by walking Molina. C.J. Wilson came in then, and hit Rafael Furcal to score a second run.
The Cardinals got no hits in the inning, but thanks in a huge majority to Washington's decision to walk Freese, they still scored twice. That tripled the St. Louis lead, and thereafter, the game did not feel especially close.
Derek Holland is a better pitcher than Matt Harrison. It's that simple an argument. Ron Washington gave more than one quote about Harrison being a part of how the Rangers got to where they were, and stuck to them.
"That's Harry's game...Matt Harrison earned it," the skipper said. "That's the way we roll."
With that pronouncement, Washington told everyone everything that is wrong with the role assigned to managers in the modern game: They are asked to wear far too many hats. Washington is a terrific players' manager, in large part because he is as loyal as that statement shows.
But that was a terrible tactical choice. Harrison is not as good as Derek Holland. That should be—that has to be—the only consideration in picking the starting hurler for Game 7 of the World Series. Alas, it wasn't.
The tying run was at second base with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6, and Albert Pujols was due to bat. In that situation, traditionalists defended the choice to walk Pujols. Here is why they were wrong.
Right-handed Scott Feldman was pitching. By walking Pujols, he brought Lance Berkman to bat with the winning run on base and the tying run still in scoring position. Berkman, for what it's worth, was better than Pujols during the 2011 regular season, and during the World Series, he batted .423/.516/.577. He also has a 1.009 career OPS against right-handed pitchers. Pujols' OPS against right-handers in 1.021.
By walking Pujols, then, Washington would have had to replace Feldman in order to get a net advantage from the sequence. He did not. Berkman tied the game, and the Cardinals won it an inning later.
If the first base-running mistake of Game 5 fell mostly on Craig and Pujols, this one rests squarely on La Russa's shoulders. He called for something, whether it was a simple head start on a 3-2 pitch or a hit-and-run.
Either way, putting a base runner at risk with Pujols at bat is dumb, and the Rangers reinforced the lesson they tried to teach in the seventh. Neftali Feliz gassed Pujols for strike three, Napoli came up firing and Ian Kinsler perfectly applied the tag to retire Craig.
Statistically, the cleanup hitter should be the best in the lineup. That's doubly true if your best hitter is a power-oriented slugger. In any event, the seventh and eighth spots in the order should always be reserved for a team's second- and third-worst batters.
Ron Washington got it backward, it seems. He batted Michael Young cleanup in every game of the series. Young has very little power, and ranks behind Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre on an objective offensive depth chart for the Rangers. He might even be less of a threat than Nelson Cruz.
Speaking of Napoli, he is the Rangers' best hitter. It's now clear that Napoli's numbers suffered from years of hitting in pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium. His park-adjusted career OPS is over 20 percent better than that of Young. He is a great hitter, the cleanup ideal. Young is a prototype for the sixth or seventh spot in Texas's order. Washington hurt his team seven times by filling out the lineup cards the way he did.
Flimsy and dishonest excuses aside, no bullpen phone interfered with La Russa's plan at this early stage of the inning. He simply thought he could sneak a left-handed pitcher past the best and hottest hitter in the Series, Mike Napoli.
Napoli came to bat with the bases loaded, just one batter behind David Murphy, whom Rzepczynski had come in to get out. La Russa clearly wanted more than one batter's work from his best reliever, so he allowed Rzepczynski to face Napoli.
Huge mistake. Napoli's .955 career OPS against southpaws is over .100 better than his mark against righties. Jason Motte should have been in the game then and there. He wasn't. The Rangers took the lead and won the game. La Russa started making up stories.
The Rangers had already rallied to a one-run lead in the top of the fifth inning in Game 6, and then loaded the bases. They had every opportunity to break the game open. Mitch Moreland was available; everybody was. It was as obvious a time for a pinch hitter as ever there has been.
None came. Washington sent Colby Lewis to bat. He wanted more than four innings' work from his No. 2 starter. Fine. But he ended up not needing Scott Feldman until the 10th inning. Feldman should have entered in the bottom of the fifth. The whole bullpen was available, plus Derek Holland and C.J. Wilson. No inning Lewis could pitch after that would have been as valuable as a hit there.
Washington let him bat anyway. Lewis struck out. Eventually, so did the Rangers.