ST. LOUIS -- The morning after what many people are calling the greatest baseball game ever, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa took some time for an exclusive Q&A with The Huffington Post.
What is the historic context of Game 6?
I haven’t really read or heard any of the experts, but I have a real good feel for history. But just in the immediate aftermath, a couple of guys said that's the first time in an elimination game a club had been two strikes down like that. All I could think about was in 1986, the Mets were down two strikes like four times in one inning. I don’t know ... To me, one of the neatest parts of that was it was such a human game. It wasn't anything that was automatic. You didn’t see everybody playing their best. There were errors and other mistakes, but the heart that the teams demonstrated was top shelf. They refused to quit.
How much of that win is simply your team personified this year?
This team has exceptional character as far as the kind of people we have on the club. They're talented, but the character is at a really high level -- demonstrated in spring training when we lost [Adam] Wainwright. All season long, we took a bunch of body blows and chops to the chin and never really lost our heart. We've always taken our best shot -- whatever that best shot may be. I think it's just a real good example of what you can accomplish when a team has character.
Is this your favorite team you've ever managed?
It has to be very high up there, but as I say, if you have two sons and two daughters, or two dogs and two cats, you love them all. There has been no team -- especially ones you take to the postseason -- that doesn’t have its own uniqueness, but this team ... the adversity, we made the trade [Colby Rasmus for Edwin Jackson] that improved us, or we didn’t really play well for the first couple weeks. Once we got it going, we were on such a short leash, you couldn’t lose. You could lose a game or two but you couldn’t lose many. Guys just kept coming through under the extreme pressure.
Given that you had to come back from 10.5 games out, did you think maybe your club could be burnt out?
I think the rush that happened before the playoffs -- you know, the hot team that gets in, you know, in all sports -- the hot team may not have the most impressive record, but the fact that you're playing really good at the end, you have to do so many clutch things to qualify. The biggest key is probably not to accept that you've done something really special by getting in and losing an edge, but by [using] that momentum to give you an edge and literally forcing yourself to keep playing.
Is there anything you would tell the guys to do differently? Will you talk to the team before the game?
The best part about all of this is as we've made this rush and we've gotten closer and closer, we've already popped champagne three times. It's just repeating what we are doing that whole last rush -- playing like it's the last game of your life. In other words, you just want to dial up the urgency so when it's over you have no regrets. Sometimes athletes get caught up in being 'too cool for school' you know, so the neatest part about this is all we have to do as a team and staff, is remind the players to get exactly where we've been. One of the most irritating comments sometimes is somebody will say, 'Hey, you know, you got to get to the next level for this.' Well, if you have another level to get to than you've been cheating the effort along the way. You can only go 100 percent. In fact, when you go more than 100 percent, it usually works against you. Whether it's an advantage versus Texas -- I don’t even think about Texas, you think about your own team. We will play this game exactly how we've been playing for two months.
When you were down to two strikes on two different occasions, did you ever think that this was it? The season could end right now?
Yeah. Those thoughts all come into your mind. You can control what you're thinking; you just force that stuff out. You'd be some kind of robot if you don’t realize that for all we've done, it could be over. And also that's part of creating the urgency, which is good for you. There were a couple of guys -- one in particular was [Chris] Carpenter. In the ninth and tenth innings, he kept going through the dugout, saying, "You know, we're a historic team with a legacy and it's not going to end right now." I mean, that's a powerful statement.
Were you surprised when Ron Washington kept starter Colby Lewis in to hit with the bases loaded in the fifth inning?
Well, you have to qualify. Number one, that's one reason baseball is the best there is for fans and for analysts, because it's right out there in front for you. I don’t care how gifted you think you are, you're not going to be able to watch football and basketball, and have a great opinion that you should run this play or that defense. It's just harder to see. In baseball, all these decisions about strategy, it's just a matter of opinion about how you read the game. One of the unfortunate realities is that when the game is played, and you have these very tough moments with strategy, you have to go one way or another. If it doesn’t work, the popular thing now is to rip the decision. In that moment, you know your club better than anybody, because you've been with them all year long, and you read the situation. I've seen where Ron [Washington] has gotten criticized for that. If I'm him, I would have done the same thing because [we only had] two or three hits, and you go to the bullpen and you don't know what their going to do.
But, you do know the guy you're pitching. He got us out the next inning and part of the next one. All these strategy questions come down to your opinion and somebody that's watching -- and that's the beauty -- can say, 'I would do something different." Maybe you're right. In that particular case, I think he did exactly what he should have done, which is keep a very effective starting pitcher in the game.
Bullpen-wise, is there anybody that can't go tonight? Maybe closer Jason Motte?
No, no, Motte's fine, he had four days rest going into last night. It probably was good for him to pitch in that it took a little edge off. There isn't anybody that can't go.
Will Chris Carpenter be your Game 7 starter?
Without the rainout, we would not even consider Chris Carpenter. And so, actually (pitching coach) Dave [Duncan] and I have been discussing it this morning. One of the factors you think about is the psyche of the club. Obviously, if they see "Carp" in there to start the game, they're going to say, 'Hey, this is our best shot because he's our leader.' But, you just have to figure out if physically that's a fair challenge and if not, we're just going to bullpen it. That's the most important call now, and we'll make it in the past couple hours.
You mentioned that Carpenter learned from the Philadelphia series when he pitched on short rest.
Yeah, that's an important piece. If we hadn’t been rained out, he'd only have two days rest instead of three. He may be in the bullpen to give you an inning or get an out. He told David he learned that he didn’t feel like when he was quite as strong which he probably will not be [tonight], he tried to overcompensate by reaching for extra, when he should have just pitched with what he had, which is what he did with the last couple outs. That's a good experience, and if we start him, that will give him a better shot.
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