Tony LaRussa spent the post-game press conference blaming the Cardinals 4-2 loss in Game 5 on poor communication with the bullpen. He said he wanted his "don't call him the closer" Jason Motte to be ready to pitch to Mike Napoli after lefty Mark Rzepczynski faced lefty David Murphy. But bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist supposedly didn't hear the request for Motte, so Rzepczynski pitched to the right-handed hitting Napoli.
I'm not buying it. La Russa goes to his bullpen more often than Ned Flanders goes to church; he believes one good pitching change deserves another. As soon as I see him walk out of the dugout, I get my DVR fast-forwarding muscles warmed up, because I know there's going to be parade of relievers coming into the game, each facing a single batter. If LaRussa wanted a righty in that situation, Liliquist would have known it without him even saying it. Plus, before the game, he told Tim McCarver, "Don’t be surprised if I use Rzepczynski against right-handed batters." And why not? Before Game 5, Rzepczynski had struck out all three of the Rangers righthanders he faced.
But after Murphy’s infield hit, LaRussa made no move to the mound. He didn't send Dave Duncan out for a visit, or even Yadier Molina to stall until he could get Motte ready. If he really wanted a righty to face Napoli, he could have used Lance Lynn, the pitcher who was warming up. But he didn't do any of those things. Instead, he started thinking of his excuses for why Napoli was able to deliver in run-scoring situations that had foiled the Cardinals all night.
The "poor communication" continued even after Napoli's two run double made subsequent pitching changes akin to moving deck chairs. This time, when LaRussa asked for Motte, Lynn came out of the pen. LaRussa said Lynn was unavailable because he had pitched 2.1 innings Saturday (Saturday!). If that's the case, why was he even in the bullpen? Why would Lilliquist assume LaRussa wanted him to warm up, rather than, Motte, or, oh, anyone else in the pen?
It wouldn’t be a LaGenius game without a four-pitcher inning, so the St. Louis manager had Lynn intentionally walk Ian Kinsler, then finally brought in Motte to get the last out. But by then, no amount of annoying pitching changes and three-minute commercial breaks could salvage the game for the Cardinals. Or for LaRussa's genius.
-- JOHN ROSENTHAL