Wednesday, July 11, 2007

LaRussa Takes Leave Of Senses By Keeping Pujols On The Bench

Tony LaRussa, in one fell swoop: alienated his star player; betrayed his league; and sent people scurrying to see whether he is on the verge of dementia.

LaRussa, the manager of the NL All-Star team, found himself in the following situation last night: bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, down by one run. And Albert Pujols, his brutus of a slugger, on the bench, still unused. And that's where Pujols remained, while LaRussa let Phillies outfielder Aaron Rowand bat for himself.

Now, this is not to slight Rowand, or any All-Star for that matter. They wouldn't be suited up if they couldn't play the game a little bit. But Pujols is a special talent that shouldn't be gathering dust in the dugout, especially with the game, home field advantage in the World Series, and league pride on the line. The NL hasn't won the midsummer classic since 1996. Even LaRussa himself admitted before the game that his stars were getting cranky and embarrassed by that fact.

So Pujols stayed anchored to the bench, Rowand made an out, and the AL's dominance continued.

LaRussa's explanation? He was "saving" Pujols in case the game went into extra innings, because of Pujols's ability to play different positions.

BUZZZ!! Thanks for playing, Tony -- we have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Pujols, for the record, lit into his manager a little bit, wryly observing that he didn't fly all the way out to San Francisco to not play. His words belied someone who was understanding of the decision, as LaRussa purported Pujols was. LaRussa, don't forget, had a dust-up with third baseman Scott Rolen in the NLCS last year -- a little feud which threatened harmony going into the World Series. That was about playing time, too.

I don't know what LaRussa was thinking of. How does he suppose a Pujols at-bat with the bases loaded, two outs, and a one-run deficit is going to lead to anything other than these two results: an NL win, or an AL win? No ties! If Pujols connects, it ain't gonna be for anything that's only gonna drive in one run at that point.

The "play for extra innings" explanation was something LaRussa used in the 2005 game, too, when he kept Pirate Jason Bay out of action.

It's one thing to piss off a player from another team, but why in the world would you risk ticking off your star player -- especially when you have an entire second half of a season in which to co-exist? Not to mention blowing a chance to win a game that was very much there for the taking.

All because you're "saving" Albert Pujols for extra innings?

In an All-Star game, you don't leave any guns unfired. Especially your own.

I'm sure Pujols won't hold this snub over LaRussa's head the rest of the summer. Doesn't seem to be his style. But it won't be because LaRussa deserves any sort of slack. Maybe Tony just didn't want to be accused of playing favorites.

But with his "non-move" last night, the only people he seemed to be favoring was the American League team. And they'll take it.


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