Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had a problem Monday night.
To recap (briefly), he thought he had asked for Jason Motte to warm up. Instead, bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist got Lance Lynn and Marc Rzepczynski up. Rz -- well, you know -- eventually came into the game, but Lynn wasn't ready by the time he was needed. So Rz -- well, you know -- had to pitch to Mike Napoli, who hit a game-winning double in Game 5.
I was going to summarize some reaction to what La Russa said about this incident in his postgame press conference -- in which he tried to put all the blame on himself -- but Jeff Gordon has helpfully already done that for me. (No, not the NASCAR driver -- this Jeff Gordon is a writer for stltoday.com.)
So, with your indulgence, here's some highlights from the summaries. Hey, it's Wednesday morning and we might have Game 6 rained out tonight, so why not delve deeper into something that could wind up costing the Cardinals the World Series?
Jayson Stark, ESPN.com:
To Tony La Russa's credit, he never stopped blaming himself for this potentially Series-deciding, season-ending disaster. He never even fought fire with fire -- by attacking the media geniuses who kept aiming all those questions at him.
Tim Brown, Yahoo.com:
La Russa, half-a-day later, would only repeat, ‘I don’t throw family under the bus,’ and then guess that, yes, he himself was probably the one on the telephone when his bullpen came apart, as did Game 5 of the World Series. He looked to me like a man stuck between the truth and his duty.
Tom Verducci, SI.com:
On the day after Phonegate, his story changed and morphed and twisted some more from its gelatinous phase immediately after the game. But La Russa also did something Tuesday that he had failed to do in the immediate wake of Game 5: he took ownership of a job poorly done.
Mark Kriegel, Fox Sports:
La Russa was brilliant. It was a performance, sure, but he played the role — that of the good manager, the fair and magnanimous skipper-patriarch — with candor, confidence and supreme self-awareness (not an inconsiderable feat for such an imperious public man). In fact, you left wondering how someone so smart could be stupid enough to leave Marc Rzepczynski in to pitch to Mike Napoli with the bases loaded in Game 5.
All of these seem to pay fealty to the idea of "Tony La Russa, Managerial Genius". But the real story may have been hit on by CBS Sports' Danny Knobler:
Rangers Ballpark is the only one in the American League where you can't tell from the visitors' dugout who is warming up in the visitors' bullpen. In other parks where the bullpen is hidden (such as Cleveland's Progressive Field), there is a television in the dugout which allows a manager to see his bullpen. The coach agreed that Rangers Ballpark can get loud enough to make it hard to hear on the bullpen phone. He said that when his team gets in a situation like that, he always has the bullpen coach repeat back the instructions, to make sure the message got through.
Absolutely. And you can bet there will be TV monitors in the visiting dugout for managers to see the bullpen at Rangers Ballpark next season. But the real question -- one that never really got answered -- is one that appears to be the most simple: in one of the most important games Tony La Russa had ever managed, why didn't he make 100% certain that his wishes were being followed?
If the Cardinals don't win this World Series, that question could dog La Russa for the rest of his Hall of Fame managing career.