The staff of Grubb Hub enjoyed its yearly company baseball outing at Busch Stadium 3-D last Wednesday night from one of the many posh luxury boxes available at the new stadium. And by staff I mean myself, and by posh luxury box I mean free right field bleacher tickets.
Anyhow, we noticed a peculiar set of stratagems employed by St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa during the bottom half of the sixth inning of Wednesday’s 4-3 triumph over the Detroit Tigers which we found quite perplexing to say the least.
Yadier Molina singled to lead off the inning on a sharp ground ball that pitcher Edwin Jackson deflected to third baseman Brandon Inge. As the Tigers are oft to do while in the Gateway City, Inge promptly chucked the ball into the stands, allowing Molina to advance to second.
So with Molina in scoring position and nobody out, third baseman Joe Thurston stepped to the plate. Now, mind you third base is typically a run-producing position. Ah, but Joe Thurston (.234, 1 HR, 18 RBI) is not your average third baseman. In fact, he is very much below average.
But far be it from me to suggest that we ever give anyone else a shot at third on a regular basis. Some options include Tyler Greene, Kahlil Greene, Brian Barden, or Brett Wallace. Sure, nobody on that list is exactly tearing it up right now. David Freese and Joe Mather also would have been options if they were healthy. But how difficult could it be to beat .234 with 1 home run? Brian Barden actually has that beat (.238, 4 HR’s) in considerably less at bats but was sent down to Memphis for some inexplicable reason. Yes, clearly Joe Thurston has won the left-handed platoon third base job, which means he’ll be starting 75% of the time from now until eternity.
But I digress. With the pitcher, who is batting eighth (*sigh*) on deck, Molina at second, and nobody out, Thurston lays down a bunt; which is stupid enough in its own right with the pitcher, who is batting eighth (*sigh*) on deck. But Thurston went one step further, bunted the ball too hard and Molina was tagged out at third.
Regardless, the move begs the question: Why would La Russa have Thurston attempting to bunt Molina to third with relief pitcher Jason Motte, who is batting eighth (*sigh*) and his whopping one at bat for the season on deck?
Well, surely in the sixth inning of a tight, low scoring game he’s planning on pinch hitting for Motte, right? I mean, he wasn’t planning on relying on Motte to drive in that important run…right?
Even with the failed sacrifice attempt, the Cardinals still had the fairly speedy Thurston at first base, and only one out. Base runners had been at a premium at this point, Motte had already pitched two-thirds of the previous inning, and you’ve got your entire bench at your disposal. You were already prepared to pinch hit for Motte, so why not do it anyway and try to get Thurston around the bases for an insurance run and extend your lead to 4-2?
Nope. Motte bats for himself, and strikes out trying to bunt Thurston to second. The inning ends when Thurston finally tries to steal second and is thrown out.
Now, since La Russa didn’t pinch hit for Motte in the bottom of the sixth, surely his thinking was that since Thurston had failed to move Molina to third with one out, why not just let Motte bat for himself and go ahead and start the next inning and save yourself from having to bring in another reliever.
Wrong again, buckaroos. In the top of the 7th, Tigers manager and Friend of Tony, Jim Leyland, sent left-handed hitting Josh Anderson to pinch hit for his pitcher, who was batting ninth by the way (yea!)
Funny how an American League team can figure out how this whole pitcher batting for himself thing is supposed to work, but the Cardinals manager cannot.
Anyhow, with Anderson batting .254 with no home runs, clearly this called for the removal of Motte, who would never have been able to retire such a prodigious left-handed slugger, so in comes baseball’s pitcher that most resembles a tree stump, Dennys Reyes.
So let’s recap, shall we?
- 6th inning, Molina at second, nobody out.
- With pitcher on deck because he’s batting eighth (*sigh*), a bunt attempt is made to move the runner from second to third. Bunt fails anyway.
- Said relief pitcher with one at bat on the season is allowed to hit for himself, even though entire bench has been unused with two-thirds of the game now over.
- Relief pitcher, now with two at bats on the season, is immediately removed the following inning.
Does any of this make any sense? I know this might sound like nitpicking, but this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time it’s happened, well, I’d be slightly richer.
Nonetheless, it makes no sense to bunt with the pitcher on deck – because he’s batting eighth (*sigh*) – then leave the pitcher in to hit, then remove pitcher immediately the next inning.
I know La Russa’s argument will be that he’s saving his “good” bench hitters for later in the game or possibly extra innings, kind of like his reasoning for not playing Albert Pujols in the 2007 All Star Game. As in that case, it seems silly to save players for a future rally or extra innings that may never happen.
But as usual, we’ll never know why he did what he did, because none of the St. Louis media would dare ask him what he was thinking with any of these moves, let alone actually second guess him. They wouldn’t want to upset the delicate genius. He might storm off in a huff and never talk to the reporter that questioned him again.