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The Worst Baseball Game Ever Managed

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Sometimes, the interwebs provide something so brilliant, so awesome, and so worth my time that, unfortunately, draft coverage gets put on the back burner just for one night.  From Joe Posnanski, we’ve come to expect that kind of awesomeness.

Tweet: If Tony La Russa is one of baseball’s great overmanaging artists, this is his Mona Lisa.

It’s a pretty long post (shocking), and this is roughly the 3rd quarter of the column, but this is about as well written of a slam on a manager as I’ve ever seen.  I’m not sure that Tony La Russa quite deserves it to this degree, but boy, was that 20-inning Mets-Cardinals game a complete managerial mess.  Thing is: that game could not have given us two managers less prepared to combat each other beyond 20-innings…and their approaches could not have been more different.

My only critique of Posnanski here is that he never once mentioned a Jerry Manuel managerial gaffe.  I like Jerry Manuel, think he’s a great guy and such, and he’s an adequate baseball manager, but the only reason he’s getting a pass here is because La Russa completely stole the show.  The Cardinals were making double, triple, even quintuple switches in this game, but it was the Mets who couldn’t afford to go down no matter the cost.

As La Russa’s approach to the game got whackier and whackier, Manuel responded by trying to limit his teams ability to go up by enough runs to make this game something of a “blown classic”.  Hilariously, in three innings facing position players on the mound for the Cardinals, the offensively challenged Mets scratched out 8 baserunners, and somehow, could not drive in runs through methods outside the sac fly.

The 19th inning, in particular, was probably the worst managed inning in major league history.  I don’t have any way to prove that, but I can certainly defend it.  Keep in mind, the game had already gotten ridiculous entering the 19th, this was just the point at which Manuel and La Russa decided to test our collective sanity.

Let me take you through that inning.  Setting the stage: 0-0, Mets have the top of the order up, with IF Felipe Lopez as the pitcher of record.  Advantage: NYM.

  • Tony La Russa pulls Felipe Lopez after 18 pitches, putting in Joe Mather, an outfielder who is playing third base because Lopez is pitching.  Kyle Lohse, a pitcher, is in left field (and playing quite well)
  • Mather, who is clearly no Lopez out there on the mound, walks Jose Reyes on five pitches.
  • With a non-pitcher on the mound, and a prolific basestealer at first, Manuel calls for the sacrifice bunt.  Yes, that’s correct.  He gives JOE MATHER a free out to move up a guy who could have just stolen second on his own anyway.  The play is successful, because karma, apparently, went to bed after the 15th inning.
  • La Russa then intentionally walks David Wright to set up the double play.  So, in consecutive plays, with the NYM vs. Joe Mather and the Cards, one team gave the other an out, then the opponent decided to give them back a baserunner, probably in a good faith gesture.
  • Mather then hits Jason Bay on a 1-1 count.  This is the only time Jason Bay has reached base all game.
  • Jeff Francouer drives in the first run of the game…by flying out deep to Kyle Lohse.  Safe to say, this is the first time in Lohse’s career that someone has successfully advanced on a fly ball he caught.
  • Hilariously, Francouer’s fly out only brings in a run, because La Russa had put Wright on base, which set up a force: moving all runners up when Bay was HBP.
  • Realizing this, La Russa walks Henry Blanco to get to the pitchers spot.  Assuming that the pitcher’s spot is a weaker hitter than Blanco is a pretty big risk.  Oh, and his pitcher 1) has no control, because 2) he isn’t a real pitcher.
  • Mather induces a ground out to end the inning.

The bottom half of the inning was even more ridiculous.

  • Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, who Manuel had specifically avoided placing him in any situation where he might possibly qualify for a win instead of a save, is now in the game to get a save, staked to a 1-0 lead that was built slowly against multiple innings of facing non-pitchers.
  • Nine pitches later, a walk brings Albert Pujols to the plate as the winning run.
  • Two pitches later, the Cardinals try a relatively safe hit-and-run play in a situation where only it’s failure would really make a difference.  Pujols whiffs at the pitch, and Ludwick is caught trying to steal second.
  • Two more pitches later, Pujols laces a game-tying one-out double off of the outfield wall.
  • Kyle Lohse, hitting as a position player, now has a major at bat to decide the course of the game.  Shockingly, the Mets do not intentionally walk him, and manage to get him to ground out to the right side.
  • Then with two bases open, and two outs, and no one with a better than .750 OPS in the due up for the Cardinals, K-Rod becomes the first (and only) Mets pitcher of the game to give up a run…IN THE SPECIFIC SITUATION THE TEAM SAVED HIM (and his $11.5 million salary) FOR.  The play that did him in was a line drive off of Yadier Molina’s bat, which with any other manager except La Russa managing the Cards, ends the game right there.

One inning later, Francisco Rodriguez, the only pitcher to give up a run for the Mets, recorded his first win of the season, despite the best efforts of his manager to not use him when getting a win was still possible.  Ugh.

Ultimately, the Mets won this game because they took the final four innings more seriously than the Cardinals did.  They didn’t really even outplay them.  They just: outlasted.  Manuel, he outlasted the onslaught of boneheaded moves by Tony La Russa.  He had no response for the madness, no gameplan, and no reason to expect a positive result, but thankfully, he kept his team on the field long enough to record a win.  That’s the kind of move that won’t show up in the stats, but matters all the same: in the win column.

The real winners are the fans: who got to enjoy the worst baseball game ever managed.  Plus: Joe Posnanski;

When it ended, there were many ready to rip Tony La Russa … and that’s fair. But to me that game was vintage La Russa. He has never apologized for the overwhelming way he manages baseball games. He never will. He tries to win, all-out, all the time. Hit and run. Pull the pitcher. Send in a pinch hitter. When you manage baseball games that way, like a heavyweight boxer throwing haymakers, you win some and you lose some, and you make a lot of people angry. But one this is sure: You never go to sleep wishing you had tried harder.

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