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October 25, 2011
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI: Workout Day
TONY LA RUSSA: Can I say something first? There's one thing I'd like to get at, because it was brought to my attention this morning. Albert Pujols, I understand there were some questions about how much responsibility, authority, with his place is in our club. I'll take whatever questions you want right after I say a few points on this.
I think I've said over and over again that for the 11 years that we've been together, Albert has proven every year, virtually every day of the season and postseason, he is a great player, not just a great producer, he's a very smart baseball player. In fact, just in the playoffs, we talked about the day he made that play on Utley that was one of the game-changing wins -- I mean, game-changing plays in a win. Even with his heels hurting he's made a couple baserunning plays where he stayed in a rundown. Why? Because this guy has got a great sense of the game.
So as long as baseball has been played, when you have a player that really understands the game, that player gets a lot of leeway and ability to be involved, based on how he's reading what's going on. It happens to pitchers that are really smart, Tom Seaver. It happens to catchers that when the benches are defending the running games. And you have a catcher like Yadi, he can call a pitchout because they're really smart and they sense it.
Albert has the ability on this club for several years to put a hit-and-run on. Some of you guys have been around a while, Alvin Dark, Dick Groat from the old days, Edgar Renteria on this club. Whenever I've been a manager and a player has a real good feel and can handle the bat and he wanted to be able to put a play on, he's been given that right.
It has everything to do with what Albert has earned as far as his understanding of the game. And the way it works is that quite often when he's going to bat, he'll stop by and he'll ask, "Hey, I'm thinking hit-and-run, what do you think?" It's happened in the postseason a couple times. I'll say, yeah, I really think it's a great play. First of all, the guy has got to get on base ahead of him, but if he gets on, we talk about it. A couple times I said, no, I don't think it's a good play here for whatever the reason. But yesterday he didn't ask me before he went up there, and I'd say half the time it may develop during the inning, and we haven't discussed it. But I trust Albert, and he put it on yesterday.
I think it's important to be accurate and then everybody has to be fair as they want to be. If you look at the history of baseball or sports, I don't care what your sport is, when a player shows that they really have a feel for the game, coaches give them a lot of well-earned ability to influence what goes on. So Albert has that ability. Picked a 1-0 pitch, Ogando threw it out of the strike zone, and it didn't work. But it has nothing to do with Albert having special privileges or not being as great as all of us have seen him be for years, and a lot of us that know him on a daily basis say he is. So anybody want to ask about that, you're welcome.
Q. The confusion last night in the bullpen --
TONY LA RUSSA: Is there no more about Albert? Let this be about Albert first.
Q. I don't know about anybody else's stories, but I know in mine all I wanted to do was find out what happened. I didn't question Albert's sense of doing it, just that he did it. And I wonder if you had it to do over again, you might just have answered the question straight out last night rather than --
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, probably not. Probably not. I mean, some of you know me more than others, some of you don't know me very well, but it's been the same philosophy ever since I started years ago in Chicago. Treat the club like a family. I don't throw the family under the bus, my personal family, I don't throw this family under the bus. So I'd rather take the hit. It's not a lie, there was a mix-up. The mix-up was I did a hit-and-run against a guy like Ogando after he's being pitched carefully -- if he would have asked me I would have said, don't put it on because they're obviously being very careful with him. You can't really expect the ball to be around the plate. The guy has got a live arm.
But no, I wouldn't really answer differently because I support the players, and that's what I believe in.
Q. I've got a bit of a two-part question: How long has Albert had this privilege? How soon did he earn it? And who else has that go-ahead on this team and maybe some of the other teams?
TONY LA RUSSA: I just mentioned Renteria for one. It's been three or four years. It could have been his rookie year -- maybe not his rookie year, second year. Because I already said after his rookie year he was the best player I've ever been around.
But here's another point about that. Number one, his first couple years, Albert got 15, 20 hits on hit-and-runs. One of the best hit-and-run guys I've ever been around. The other thing that's so great about it, if you stop and think about it, when you're a great hitter like Albert, there's situations come up in a game where the hit-and-run in the manager's opinion is the play, and you really wonder what message you're sending your great player when you put the hit-and-run on because you're kind of saying, we want you to swing the bat. We don't trust you to take this at-bat on your own. You really get caught between a rock and hard place. I don't want to send the wrong message or take the bat out of his hands because I'm not sure if the pitch is going to be around the plate. So when a guy like Albert is so receptive to playing the game right, that's kind of why I'm so aggressive in addressing this right now at the beginning. It's really a humongous break for our club when a great player wants to play the game right. And that's kind of the point I want to make.
You know, if you want, I'll take some time to think about some of the guys over the years that I've done it with. If you want me to do it, I'll do it later on.
Q. Just logistically how does he put the sign on?
TONY LA RUSSA: Oh, right. No. (Laughter) I am going to tell you what the sign is and everything?
No, it's cute. Sometimes it's from him, sometimes he gets it to somebody else. I mean, you've got to be careful because the other guys are going to start paying attention.
Q. I know the pitch was over his head, I mean, obviously, but how does that work? If it's a hit-and-run obviously Craig is going. Is that just one where it's so high, he's obviously not going to do anything with it?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, they teach you to swing if you can get -- and he can reach a lot of pitches, but that one was just wasted a strike. There's no way he could have reached it, although you try to protect the runner the best you can.
Q. Just to clarify, so when Craig came back to the dugout, was that the discussion?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, I asked him because we have ways that we put on the hit-and-run from the bench, and actually you've got to be careful, the other club is always watching you. So I can put it on, and I thought, holy smokes, sometimes you have a regular sign, sometimes you have a flash sign, and I thought, crap, did I put it on? Is that the normal hit-and-run? What was that? And he told me. So then I said, okay. I was just glad I didn't put it on.
Q. The other Albert hit-and-run in the ninth when you're two runs down, what is the reasoning when the runner on first is not the run that counts? It doesn't matter whether he's on second or third, why not let Albert hit 3-2 rather than maybe expand the zone?
TONY LA RUSSA: First of all, it's not a hit-and-run. There's no sign there that says when a guy -- hit-and-run means the guy goes, if the ball is on the plate, you have to swing. They usually refer to that as a run-and-hit. You want to start the runner, and then the hitter is really looking at ball, take, close, borderline, you do swing. In fact, one of the keys to that, and Albert did it, is he looks to the third base coach to see if the runner is going, and some guys don't. But he did.
And the way I -- I had plenty of time to think about that. I think Albert is one of the best that I've ever been around at putting the ball in play, number one. The other thing that wasn't as much fun this year is we led the world, maybe the entire -- however long baseball has been played, in double plays. So when you sit there thinking, look, I've got a guy that has a great strike zone, can put the ball in play versus sit around and hit a ground ball and it's two outs. And I said yesterday, the first two pitches that he had, if he'd have hit those balls and he was trying to stroke that hole, it's first and third, nobody out. So when in doubt be aggressive.
I did also mention to one of our coaches when it got deeper and they know he's running, then I give them credit. They threw that very nasty fastball. But that's why I did it. I thought it was a better shot for us if he was swinging if the guy was running than to take a chance on a double play.
Q. I'm trying to measure the severity of the confusion with the bullpen last night. There was a sequence of events. A day later do you view that moment in time as costing you the game?
TONY LA RUSSA: Oh, I think it directly affected it. This is what you're taught as a coach. Sometimes there's execution problems, like maybe the guy swings at a bad pitch, maybe the guy takes a bad lead. Those things are on the player to a large degree. But they're also -- you're never truly without blame or responsibility as a coach or a manager because a lot of it comes to coaching and teaching. But for sure when there's stuff that went on in that inning with the bullpen and who's up and who's not, that's miscommunication. In the end that comes totally on the coach, or the manager.
I explained yesterday what was going on, and to the extent that what I wanted to have happen wasn't happening, didn't happen, yeah, that's my fault. I don't need to dodge that, ever.
Q. With the three intentional walks last night to Albert, how do you get the bat back in his hand?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, there's only two real good ways: If the bases are loaded it's hard to walk him, so the guys you put on base ahead of him. And the other one, which is the most important, is who protects him from behind. One of our strengths is that we have Matt and Lance. Tomorrow Lance will hit fourth. You know, Matt had a tough day, and he's beating himself up. So what we can do is we can try to point out how he can be more productive.
But we are a club that's built on having the depth to protect Albert, and if you look at that situation where we end up -- there's a left-handed pitcher pitching to Matt with one out, we usually score with that because Matt is so good. They walked Berkman to get to Freese with the bases loaded. That's part of our strength. Freese is an LCS MVP, and they got away with all of it.
Our lineup gives the other side some very difficult options, and sometimes they backfire and sometimes they work. But it creates some problems for the other side. I'll guarantee you that Ron wasn't happy to be walking guys, putting guys on base, but you have to with our club.
Q. Back to the bullpen, what is your procedure calling down there in a noisy stadium? I know a lot of teams, you ask for whatever reliever, one or two guys to get up, and then the bullpen coach repeats it back over the phone, on some teams. I just wonder what your procedure is, if there's any protection in a situation like that.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, we don't repeat it. You know, as I explained, there are places where it's hard to hear. One of the places is in Milwaukee, we just went through another one. Any time the bullpen now is situated around the bleachers and they're close, Philadelphia, anyplace we played in the postseason the bullpen is situated very near. Atlanta it's not because they're stuck in the corner, you know what I mean? Anyplace that you do it, one of the first issues if they got something going is having the bullpen hear the phone. So sometimes you're sitting there and it's ringing, ringing, ringing until the noise subsides.
It's one of the things you deal with when you're playing the games. It's like shadows. But we don't have a procedure where you say this and the guy says "Roger". If the guy can't hear, sometimes he says it, and like I said, I thought yesterday the first mention of Motte was probably after he had hung up. Maybe I didn't say it quickly enough. The second one, I said "Motte", he heard "Lynn". That's only one way to explain that. You can't hear clearly.
Q. One part I didn't understand about the sequencing yesterday, you had said that if Motte was ready that he was the guy you wanted to face Napoli. That situation comes up, Rzepczynski against Napoli, at that point do you think you have Motte warming up in the bullpen?
TONY LA RUSSA: No, I looked down there, he wasn't warming up. That's when I called the second time and said "get Motte going." There's no way you could stall enough to get him going.
Q. Was that the thought? I would think with all the stalling that you could do --
TONY LA RUSSA: The guy starts fresh. You can't stall enough because you can't -- somebody asked, what about the commercial break? Well, you don't get the commercial break until you make the change. You can't go out to the mound, come back and go back to the same hitter. So the fact that he wasn't throwing made him unavailable to pitch. But you just couldn't. He can't throw five pitches and come in there. It's risky, it can't be done. So when I looked down there and he wasn't going, I said, "Get Motte going," and he heard "Lynn".
Wherever there's miscommunication, I told Derek, "Derek, believe me, it's not your problem. It's mine."
Q. Jaime has been a good home stadium pitcher all year, even in the playoffs. What's your confidence level in him for tomorrow?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, let's go back to how he pitched Game 2 for us. I mean, if you look at our losses, this is the only thing we do really well as a team. I'm willing to bet everything that I have that last night there wasn't anybody on the pitching side blaming the offense or pitcher blaming the defense or the offense wasn't blaming our starters or relievers. I mean, we're a team. But if you look at our series, we really have pitched well. We've had one really good offensive game. So our confidence is very good that he's going to pitch well, and we're challenging our bats to do more.
Q. I think other than Terry Francona, Ron Washington issued fewer intentional walks than any manager over the last two years. Do you think Albert disrupts normal strategy as Barry Bonds did to a certain extent?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah. I can remember '09 we got swept by the Dodgers and Joe pulled it out right away. Like I say, it's -- you go into a series and you can identify a guy that's not going to beat you, and the way you do that is you pitch him very carefully, never give in to him, or you intentionally walk him. And you can play a whole three-game series. Sparky was one of the masters at doing that. He would take one guy and say, don't even bring your bat to the park.
It can be effective to shut that guy down, but it usually only works against clubs that are not real deep in the middle, and that's one of our strengths. We're very deep in the middle. If you watch us play, more often than not it doesn't work because one of these quality guys will get you.
Q. To the best of your recollection, can you tell us what you think the moment you look out and you think Motte is warming up and you realize he's not.
TONY LA RUSSA: I never thought he wasn't. I mean, I didn't -- excuse me. When we didn't get the double play ball, I looked down there and there was nobody there, so I went to the phone for the second time, and I never looked back again. I thought it was him. When I got back they said they were yelling at me, I'm not sure why. I don't know when they noticed it was Lynn and not Motte.
But just to finish that point off, he wasn't going to pitch that day unless it was an emergency. And I certainly don't fault Derek because if he hears "Lynn", then I thought it's an emergency, it's my responsibility. But when I see him coming in, I'm just not going to risk his arm. I'm going to just four-ball it and bring in Motte. At least Motte gives up a hit and the game gets away, but I am going to walk out here and we've got a pitcher ready for tomorrow that's healthy and I don't risk him. That's kind of different to do, but I wasn't going to let him air it out in that situation.
Q. Looking ahead for tomorrow, with 80 percent chance of rain, with the new rules, the suspension rules for the postseason, would you rather get this game started, and if it's suspended, suspend it, or would you rather not have it start? And has there been discussion with MLB about this?
TONY LA RUSSA: You know what I've learned over the years, it saves you a lot of "what about this," "what about that" if your opinion isn't asked for, don't bother thinking about it. If they say play, we'll play. I'm definitely going to keep us abreast whether it's us or the Texas Rangers.
MLB puts all the factors into it and we'd be thinking about it from the St. Louis Cardinal point of view. Whatever they think is best. I remember we played here Game 1 and there was talk about waiting an hour, and the Commissioner said, no, we're starting, and it was a good decision and we played. I know they don't want to interrupt the game. It'll be interesting. I've got family coming in. They'll wait an extra day, just wait and see.
Q. You said one of the ways to be sure Albert hits is to be sure guys are on base ahead of him. How do you look at the top of your lineup and who starts at second and center field and where Skip is, what you might do with the first two spots in the order?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, one reason I, just going back a step, liked playing the games in Texas, because we got to hit a position player ninth, and that's why that pitcher sometimes hits eighth for us, it creates Albert as a clean-up hitter every time you turn around the lineup.
For tomorrow, a National League park, not going to hit the pitcher eighth, so is Rafael hitting in the front? Who's going to play center, Jon or Skip? Who's going to play second? That's what off-days are for. But I know the importance of setting the table for the middle of our lineup, not just Albert.
Q. So far who's starting a potential Game 7?
TONY LA RUSSA: I told our players after the game that -- I had a conversation with Dave. We had a really positive feel how we would pitch that game, and that's -- we need to get there first and then we can talk about it.
Q. If you don't mind answering this in Spanish. After such a bizarre situation, a Jeffrey Maier situation, that actually had a direct outcome in the game, how hard is it to actually leave it back and how motivating is it to come back in Game 6?
TONY LA RUSSA: You mean talk about the phones and stuff?
Q. Yeah, in general.
TONY LA RUSSA: The phones are preventable. It's my fault for not handling it better and making sure. All I had to do was look in the bullpen, repeat to make sure.
Q. If there was a rain-out tomorrow, would Carpenter on three days' rest be an option in Game 7? I thought I'd try.
TONY LA RUSSA: There isn't any part of me that doesn't want to have a Game 7, but every other part of me says let's think about Game 6 first.
Q. I know you've walked us through it before, but could you see into the bullpen last night? And when the exchanges are going back between the dugout and Lilliquist, my assumption is that you were always on the phone; is that correct, as well?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, I think sometimes Dunc calls, but he's usually doing his chart. I think I called. Not only that, but they have a sign who says who's relieving, but I was more concentrating on what was going on on the field, so I didn't take a peek.
Q. So there's a lag there between when Dotel is having an issue, you're getting Zep up, you're trying to get -- you're thinking about Motte --
TONY LA RUSSA: That was asked. The reason Dunc went out there for Dotel because, as you could see, Octavio is not real comfortable intentionally walking guys, so Dunc went out there to tell him and the catcher, tell Yadi to sit up off the plate and throw four fastballs away. That's the only reason he made that trip. And Zep was getting ready. He didn't make it to stall for Zep or anybody else. He was just going to say, look, this is the way to do it rather than pitch to Cruz. I didn't think Cruz was the best way for us to go. And Dotel says, "Yeah, don't worry, I can intentionally walk him," and that's how -- but that's why Dunc made the trip. He wasn't stalling or anything.
Q. So when the inning reaches Napoli, are you fully cognizant at that point that Motte is not even up, or is that when the realization hits --
TONY LA RUSSA: As soon as the guy -- the bags are loaded, I looked down there and there was nobody throwing, and then can't stall long enough.
Q. I probably know -- in fact, I'm sure I know the answer, but I'm writing a story and I've got to ask the question. At some point tonight, tomorrow morning on your way to the park, when you get up in the morning, is any part of your thought process about the fact that there is at least some chance that either tomorrow or the next day is going to be the last game Albert plays here, or do you think about his time here? Does any of that come anywhere into your thinking?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, yeah, you have a lot of time to think about your team. And over the course of the rush at the end of the season into the postseason, I have thought about Albert's situation because he's a teammate, and I care a lot about him personally and professionally. I also would think at the same time about exactly what I thought -- when I was thinking about Albert, I was also thinking about Furcal, Dotel, all those guys that hadn't been in the World Series. So I'd be thinking about Albert's last game and I'd also be thinking, geez, I hope we can pull this off so they can experience a world championship. It's all part of the team and the family, so I think about it.
Q. You've mentioned that you were only going to use Lynn in an emergency, which is something I assume Derek Lilliquist knows well, and he's been in baseball for a long time. That's obviously not an emergency situation. I think you had at least four other right-handers in the bullpen. So once that's communicated, even if he hears "Lynn", should he say back to you, "Are you sure Lynn? I thought he wasn't available," or is that not something you should do back to the manager?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I would think, and I would be disappointed if Derek would have been saying, you know, Tony, I mean, do you know what you're doing? You know, emergency by definition means it's not available; it's available in a situation. You could reason that that was going to be a one-out out, and then you save -- if Motte was going to be the guy that was going to pitch, well, he gets that out and then he's going to sit and get cold, the old thing. It's better for him to come out and pitch the next inning fresh.
So I can see what Derek -- the big key is if the manager is on the phone and he says one guy -- I mean, he felt bad about it, but I said, hey, it's my fault. Maybe I slurred it, whatever it is. It comes down to who has the responsibility when there's those kinds of miscommunications, it's mine. There wasn't anything there that Derek did wrong at all, and I've assured him of that ten times.
Q. You mentioned that Motte didn't have enough time to warm up once you realize that he's not up. We've all seen managers sometimes go out and pick a fight with an umpire, have a pitcher fake an injury when they're warming up, just to buy extra time. In general what are your feelings about that? And did that run through your mind yesterday?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, umpires may not believe this, but never, ever in 30-some years have I ever used the umpire as an excuse for anything, whether it's getting a guy ready, more importantly whether it's to psyche our club up because you think they're flat. I've never done it because I think it's -- there's an issue there that's embarrassing, and not only that, but they hold it against you if they don't think it's sincere. Fake an injury, I haven't done that, either. There's other ways that you can stall. You can send the catcher out there, you can step off ten times, throw over to first base, I've done that. But a guy starting fresh, no, there's -- the only way we would have done that is if he would have thrown 10 pitches and thrown 17 pitches -- I don't think it was possible.
Q. When a game goes haywire for you like that in an inning, what do you do in response, play it over in your mind 1,000 times or as soon as you left that clubhouse last night was it over?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, you just think about it for a second. If you're a member our club, just the manager, coach, players, and you're playing all nine innings, what do you think is a predominant thought that you have in your mind as you're getting more and more into that game? And then when that inning transpires, it's how do we now score extra runs, because -- I don't care if it's a regular season game or something as important as the World Series. If you get an early lead and you don't add on, it comes back to haunt you almost all the time, especially against a good club. So we kept pushing and pushing for the run. So to this moment, the thing that is bothering our club, the hitting coaches, the manager the most is how do we not produce for runs from those situations, and that's what we're going to try to do better.
If you look at anything else, I mean, I thought we pitched well. Carp was outstanding. Look at Rzepczynski, gets a double play ball. Nice sinker he fouls off and fired it and a guy that's hot hit it.
Once you think about it, I said, man, this is stuff that I hope happens on a Wednesday game on the road someplace that nobody is there. Then of course it wouldn't have happened that way. But it isn't the No. 1 thought about that game. Losing the two base runners like we did, the first one, I explained it. I trust Albert. He's earned the trust. And he will -- I hope he hit-and-runs four times tomorrow if he thinks he should. The run-and-hit in the ninth, that was my call. If somebody differs strategy-wise, that's part of the game, but I'd do it again because I trust him to put a ball in play.
Long story short, once the thing started, you go and make a pitching change, you've got the wrong guy coming out there, that's not fun. Geez, that was embarrassing. But it wasn't the thing that I thought about and we thought about the most in that game was over. It's only getting two runs was probably the biggest thing.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports