Monday night, the St. Louis Cardinals lost a close contest to the Texas Rangers, falling behind three games to two in the World Series. They didn't lose for any single reason, as a number of different things went wrong, but by far the biggest problem was that they couldn't cash in enough of their numerous opportunities. They batted 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They put 17 runners on base, and two of them scored. During the regular season, a team put 17 runners on base 217 times. They averaged 6.9 runs in those games.
But the Cardinals didn't score 6.9 runs, or even 5.9 runs. They scored two runs, while the Rangers scored four runs. The third and fourth of which scored in the bottom of the eighth, when Mike Napoli doubled against Marc Rzepczynski. That's a matchup that never should've happened, so the story became Tony La Russa's poor managing. La Russa seemed to make a number of strategic blunders during the game, with the Napoli/Rzepczynski showdown capping everything, and people were left to wonder how a Hall of Fame manager had screwed so much up. There were immediate suggestions that the bottom of the eighth was the worst-managed half-inning of La Russa's entire career.
La Russa seemed to make a few strange decisions in the bottom of the eighth, but using Rzepczynski to pitch to Napoli with the bases loaded was easily the strangest. What possible explanation could he have had for that maneuver? Well, the truth wound up stranger than fiction. La Russa had earlier called down to the bullpen to get Rzepczynski and Jason Motte warmed up, but the coach on the other end -- Derek Lilliquist -- heard only the first name. To make things even weirder, when La Russa called back, the coach again couldn't hear properly, and started warming Lance Lynn, who wasn't supposed to pitch in Game 5 because he'd thrown 47 pitches in Game 3. That's more or less how the left-handed Marc Rzepczynski wound up facing the right-handed Mike Napoli with Game 5 of the World Series on the line.
How did we get here? How did that kind of staggering miscommunication take place on baseball's biggest stage, with the stakes as high as stakes ever get? We offer a few possible explanations below.
La Russa: I see Rzepczynski. Get Motte up, too.
Lilliquist: Rzepczynski and Lynn, got it.
La Russa: No, I said Motte. Rzepczynski and Motte.
Lilliquist: Rzepczynski and Lynn, no problemo.
La Russa: Are you deaf? Motte. Jason Motte. I want him throwing.
Lilliquist: Yeah, Lance Lynn is right here, he's good to go.
La Russa: Are you f---ng with me?
Lilliquist: I hate my job.
Lilliquist: I hate my job and I hate you.
La Russa: Warm up Jason f---ing Motte.
Lilliquist: I'm warming up Lance f---ing Lynn and there's nothing you can do about it.
Lilliquist: Wave to the dugout, Lance.
Lynn: No, coach, I got it.
Lynn: /picks up
La Russa: Derek?
Lynn: This is him.
La Russa: Get Motte up, I want him to face Napoli.
Lynn: /hangs up
Lilliquist: What did he want?
Lynn: He wants me to start getting warm.
Lilliquist: Are you sure? Didn't he say before that you're not pitching tonight?
Lynn: Yeah I dunno, guess he changed his mind.
Lilliquist: I'm gonna call back, just to make sure.
Lynn: No, no, you don't need to do that.
Lilliquist: You're sure.
Lynn: So sure.
La Russa: I want Motte throwing.
Lilliquist: WHAT ABOUT YOUR ROWING
La Russa: No, I want Motte throwing.
Lilliquist: WHAT ABOUT IT
La Russa: What?
Lilliquist: IT'S VERY LOUD OUT HERE, YOU'LL HAVE TO SPEAK UP
La Russa: Look, when I called you last-
La Russa: No, you-
Lilliquist: LANCE LYNN?
La Russa: No, not Lynn.
Lilliquist: WHAT'S MAUDLIN
La Russa: Get Motte up, right now.
Lilliquist: WHAT DO YOU MEAN MOP-UP
Lilliquist: IT'S TWO TO TWO
Lilliquist: I JUST CAN'T HEAR YOU, IT'S TOO LOUD
Lilliquist: WE'LL HAVE TO USE SIGNALS, ALL RIGHT
La Russa: All right.
La Russa: /hangs up
Lilliquist: /hangs up
La Russa: /waves at bullpen
Lilliquist: /waves back
La Russa: /points to right arm
La Russa: /points to face
La Russa: /runs fingers through imaginary beard
Lilliquist: /thumbs up
La Russa: /thumbs up
Lilliquist: Lynn, get throwing.
Lynn: You sure?
Lilliquist: Skip's orders.
Lynn: Skip said I'm not pitching unless there's an emergency.
Lilliquist: He signaled righty with a beard.
Motte: Are you sure he didn't mean me?
Lilliquist: No, the beard in his signal wasn't that thick.
Lynn: /begins stretching