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October 18, 2006

Tony La Russa


Q. Your shortstop yesterday had a very dynamic game, however he got banged up. What's the result of the medical tests and will he be able to play today?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, the lineup that's posted doesn't have -- it has an open space, either him or Miles. He told me to write his name in. He said his shoulder is good to go. He said his fingers are good to go. I said, "Well, I trust you, let's watch it in the work out."
My guess is he'll play.

Q. What convinced you that Adam Wainwright would be able to handle the closer's role and how much has he impressed you or surprised you?
TONY LA RUSSA: Just a progression. You have to go all the way back to Spring Training when he was -- you had to bet, you'd bet he'd start in AAA. He wasn't necessarily ahead of some of the other guys that were competing for the starting job.
But the possibility was, and Duncan has always liked the young star that's right on the edge of the big leagues to spend a year in the bullpen. And you work him in, give him some exposure and see what it's all about. He looked so good in Spring Training that we saw that he could be a member of the bullpen and we're going to be careful with him. And within a month, he's already pitching the seventh inning and the eighth inning and the end of the ninth. Everything he's handled, there's been absolutely no change. He's been so impressive.

Q. Just back to David, for a kid who kind of looks like a choir boy and some people say he looks like a bat boy, do you know of a tougher player than you've ever had and a guy that just gives his all?
TONY LA RUSSA: I would have to say over the years, had a whole bunch of really tough guys who competed very tough and got banged up and never backed off. But when you consider his stature, I don't know if I've ever been around a guy tougher than David. He gets blasted with foul balls, hit balls, hit by pitches, sliding into second base, diving. He's fearless. Toughest guy I've ever been around.

Q. When you were struggling at the end, you were missing him, was that related?
TONY LA RUSSA: You know, I've got to be careful with that, because Aaron Miles, struggling at the end, we were struggling as a team. But before the end, you know, David missed more than just the end. Aaron Miles did a terrific job. We won a lot of games with Aaron playing short. Really, part of the reason when you look at how close that margin was, had Aaron not played as well, we would have missed it.
But David's got a lot of intangibles for us. He sets an unbelievable example, and guys respond to him.

Q. Where does Yadier Molina rank among the catchers defensively? You've seen a lot of them over the years.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I mean, catchers like Fisk and Steinbach, he's got the quickest release and the strongest and most accurate arm of a catcher. I think you could rank him right there with Pudge Rodriguez as the two best I've ever seen.
He's got an intelligence that goes way beyond his couple three years in the big leagues. Got to be the family he was raised in, the environment in Puerto Rico. He understands, you see him make trips the veteran catchers make, just when you're sitting in the dugout thinking something should be said, should we waste a trip, and you look up and he's out there; he's got great instincts.

Q. You've had season-to-season turnover a lot over the past few years. I can't remember a time when you had this kind of in-season turnover at central positions. What kind of challenge does that present for you, for their teammates, how does that all sort of work when you turn over so many places in your rotation and your infield and your outfield within a season?
TONY LA RUSSA: I think there's two answers. One, the teammate part of it, because normally, you build stuff -- actually, year to year. And so a guy joins you in Spring Training and we've been really good about guys, by the time the six weeks are over, they are teammates. So that's been a real hurry-up. I give a lot of credit to the guys that have joined us. They came in ready to become teammates, our teammates welcomed them with open arms and it happened very fast. It's a difficult way to get close.
The other one is just, you know, the strategy part of it. You get to, how to use a pitcher, how to use a hitter. Duncan likes to get a guy at the beginning of camp and watch him in batting practice in Spring Training before the games count. So that's tough, finding a guy where he needs to work out. Most coaches try to put guys in the right spots and avoid bad ones and when you join during the season, they have a hurry-up, kind of cram thing and you can make mistakes while you're running.

Q. Back to Wainwright for a moment, is your plan still to think of him in terms of going back as a starter next year, or with Isringhausen's physical situation, is that sort of up in the air?
TONY LA RUSSA: That's a great question, it was asked earlier. You know, we purposely have not been thinking about next year just because this year is still alive and we're excited.
You know, once in a while, the thought has crept in there. I think the biggest compliment is that we think he could be outstanding either way. I bet the organization right now would probably vote to put him in the rotation. And you can -- you've got Looper, you've got Izzy coming back. Certainly the bullpen would be deeper than our rotation.
Like I say, probably right now it would be a shade towards that way, but what you do I think during the winter is you just put together as many good players, pitchers as you can and then you have a guy like Adam that you think could be outstanding either place.

Q. First of all, were the diagnostics done on Eckstein's shoulder and finger? And second of all, we're not the brightest people in the world in the press box, but even we called the suicide squeeze.
TONY LA RUSSA: On that pitch?

Q. Not necessarily on that pitch. But is he that good at doing that, that even in obvious situations, you don't hesitate to call him?
TONY LA RUSSA: He's real good, because part of that, he's absolutely fearless. He stands in, throw it right at him, he might bunt it just like he did there.
Most of the times the squeeze, the other side, it's never a surprise. They pitched out first pitch; they were expecting it. It's just a guessing game. He had a sinker down and in, but the other part of it, the execution. And he's gifted at that execution.
But I mean, tonight, they could guess right. But it's stuff that, you know, you call a pitch on, it's wrong. And how many are you going to call in a row. You've got number two hitter coming up behind him.
But the answer is, he makes up plays that haven't even been drawn up.

Q. And the diagnostics?
TONY LA RUSSA: The diagnostics is it's a sprained shoulder that's responded well overnight and bruised fingers that have responded, according to him, well overnight.

Q. As many places as you've been in the Major Leagues, what's it like to manage in St. Louis with the tradition of the teams and the expectation of the fans? What's it like to be there?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I don't want to get too corny, but it's been an experience of a lifetime. I started in Chicago and really got into that one. Chicago is a rabid sports town, White Sox, Cubs, they don't like each other. That was a real good introduction.
Then you get to Oakland and that was a truly unique situation. And you get to St. Louis, that's one of the keys, and you mentioned it, day-in and day-out, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson and those guys, they walk around. The thing I enjoy most about that is that all of those great Hall of Famers are pulling for the organizations to maintain that tradition. So you feel like there's pressure and expectation that, don't let us down.
You know, then you get the fans who I think they are more in love with the players than they are with the coaches and the managers. And that's true in all our sports. For the players, it's a great place to play. So I've never been -- every place I was was a two-team town, Chicago, Bay Area, whatever, and it's been overwhelming at times in a positive way.
The neatest thing that I say every spring and it's been a big advantage, and you see it sometimes with other teams, they are searching. The Cardinals, there's no searching. We play Cardinal baseball just like it was in the '30s and '40s. It's just playing in the 2000s. It's straightforward and no tricks. That's very useful if you're trying to teach players to play it right, just do it the same old-fashioned way.

Q. Having been through a lot of post-seasons in your career, a layoff like the Tigers are having, five or six days, does that help a team, hurt it, or make any difference?
TONY LA RUSSA: There's no doubt, just like the analogies during the season, you clinch it with two weeks to go, you clinch on the last day, you want to get in as soon as you can. I think it's just like I saw one chart there with the last two or three teams that had six days' rest, they won.
But I think I remember the '88 team, we might have had six days off and lost. So, you know, whether it's us or the Mets, we've got a chance.
You know, I think in the end, there will be a real effort, knowing the people in Detroit. It will be a real effort to give them two days, three days to rest their brains and have another three or four days to really start cooking again. I would love to be in their situation. I think we all would.

Q. Carpenter struggled in the beginning of Game 4 against San Diego, and last time in Game 2 he didn't quite do that well, how good overall do you feel having your Cy Young winner going in the closeout game?
TONY LA RUSSA: I read something, I didn't think I had said that because it wasn't too good of a quote. Something about, you know, he's great, he's going to be great or something, I forgot exactly how I said it but it didn't sound like something I would say. What I said is he's as good as anybody pitching, and one of the reasons that he shows is that is when he struggles, he fights so hard, he keeps you in the game and that's what he did that day.
You watch him 33, 34 times a year, you have a whole bunch of games where he's just sharp as a tack, and it's wonderful and there's other days where it's a real effort.
Our club feels like when Chris pitches, we have a real chance to win. So he's pitching tonight. The talk on the plane, there's been talk in the clubhouse, we did not underestimate anything. The Mets are playing at home, they are a very good club, motivated to keep going and it's going to be a tough game and you want Chris pitching. We've got Jeff tomorrow if we lose. We've just got to be good enough to win the game here. You know, we're going to try to be good enough and if they are good enough to beat us, we'll tip our caps.

Q. What are you doing in left and right field tonight, and the reason behind it?
TONY LA RUSSA: I think wherever possible, you want to play your strongest defensive club. Now fortunately for us, a lot of our defense comes from guys that are also potentially offensive. Encarnacion is playing right, Jimmy is in center. The call came in left between Spiezio and Duncan; I chose Spiezio, so he's hitting second, playing left field.

Q. You look at the series and you can see a certain attrition rate for starting pitchers, and neither team has its full complement. Is it hard to get a pitcher all the way through a season and to the end of the post-season?
TONY LA RUSSA: I don't know how to answer that. I mean, we really don't have -- we had Mark (Mulder), had problems, most of the second half of the year. We ended up, you know, without him. We've got our guys -- the Mets had a couple very tough hits there, no doubt about it. I don't know, just the Tigers had their guys. San Diego had theirs. I don't know, I'm not sure. I think you play a season, it's so demanding, and sometimes you catch a little break and sometimes you take a hard hit and maybe a key position player, maybe it's a pitcher. I don't know how to answer it.
What the Mets have had to do, losing those guys, is a serious hit.

Q. If it does come down to a seventh game, tell us what you like about Suppan pitching in a big game like that.
TONY LA RUSSA: I hope not to answer that question, and if I have to, I'll answer it tomorrow.

End of FastScripts...

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