Tony La Russa is not afraid to make what looks like bold moves, but all of his moves are calculated risks. When they pay off, they go unnoticed, but when they backfire, it has fans scratching their head or screaming. In Game 3 of the NL Division Series, La Russa’s decisions didn’t turn out the right way, but they were not wrong.
Back to the bottom of the sixth inning. After Cole Hamels struck out the first two batters, Ryan Theriot (who had four hits) singled and Jon Jay walked giving the Cardinals first and second with two outs in a 0-0 game. First decision for La Russa. Take Garcia out of the game for a pinch hitter in hopes of getting a two out hit, or let Garcia bat and continue to pitch against a team he has done well against in two previous starts in which he allowed just one earned run in 15 innings.
Garcia had only allowed three hits and was only at 74 pitches, so he had plenty in the tank. With a third of the game still to be played, you would expect Garcia to continue to pitch well.
Garcia strikes out becoming Hamels’ eighth victim and he takes to the mound for the seventh. He starts Shane Victorino off with three straight balls and works the count full, but gives up a leadoff single, the first leadoff batter to reach base against Garcia. After a passed ball moved Victorino to second, Garcia got the next two batters out before La Russa made the decision to walk Carlos Ruiz.
Ben Francisco was just 1 for 7 against Garcia and the moves seemed worthy to make. Not only does it bring up a hitter who has struggled, but it gets Hamels out of the game.
Well, Francisco had other plans launching a 1-0 pitch to left-center giving the Phillies a 3-0 lead and help play spoiler.
As the Cardinals proved, they could rally and score off of the Phillies’ bullpen, but instead of drawing first blood, had to play catch up. Had Garcia been up to 90+ pitches, and wasn’t lifted for a pinch hitter, I think fans would have had a bigger reason to beef about La Russa’s call.
Tony has one more chance for redemption. A win today will force a game five and give the Cardinals a solid chance in Philly with Chris Carpenter set to start the decisive game…on four day’s rest.