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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Blame Boggs, not La Russa, for Game 4 pitching gaffe


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Tony La Russa lost this game. That's what I want to read today. I want to read somewhere -- and it would be nice if I read it in the same places that have been crediting La Russa all month -- that he lost Game 4 of the World Series.

It doesn't matter that I don't believe it myself, though I don't. I don't believe La Russa lost Game 4, even if the postmortem from Sunday night would show his fingerprints all over the fatal blow of the Rangers' 4-0 victory -- a three-run home run by Mike Napoli.

That's not the point. The point is, the media loves to credit managers for wins and losses, and I've been there myself. Hell, I was there myself last time I was here, at The Ballpark, when I blamed Rangers manager Ron Washington for the Rangers' 9-0 loss in Game 2 of the 2010 World Series. The irony of that story, and this one, is that the reason I blamed Washington in 2010 -- the player whose failure I assigned to Washington -- is the same guy, Derek Holland, who pitched the Rangers to victory Sunday night.

Holland threw 8 1/3 innings of two-hit ball, striking out seven and walking two and pitching so stupendously that the crowd of 51,539 booed Washington for leaving the dugout with one out in the ninth. They wanted to see Holland finish the game. They didn't want to see the manager. This game wasn't about the manager.

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Not many games are about the manager, but that's what the media does. It's what fans do, too. We're into mythology and history, and Tony La Russa is a guy who will go down in history with other mythological managers like Connie Mack and John McGraw. Geniuses. Men who won games with their frontal lobe.


Sure, managers can make a difference here and there, but when they bring in this pitcher to face that batter, and this pitcher gets that batter out, I'm not impressed. Not with the manager, anyway. The pitcher who made the pitches? I'm impressed with that guy. The manager who dictated the matchup? Color me unimpressed. I mean, somebody had to pitch, and there aren't all that many choices in the bullpen. Once the guy is chosen, it's up to him to get the job done. At that point, the manager is just the dude with the best seat in the house.

Which brings me back to Game 4, and the loss-clinching matchup dictated by none other than Tony La Russa -- a move that should suggest incompetence just as surely as some of his other moves, like Allen Craig pinch-hitting in Game 1, have suggested genius.

Sunday night, it was the sixth inning. One out. Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson had just walked his seventh batter, and that's an alarming number, seven walks in five-plus innings. That's ugly, a franchise mark for a World Series start, tying "Wild Bill" Hallahan's dubious record from Game 2 of the 1931 World Series. Still, when he wasn't walking the Rangers, Jackson was setting them down. But when he walked Nelson Cruz and David Murphy with one out in the sixth, La Russa replaced him with right-hander Mitchell Boggs.

Now batting for Texas, Mike Napoli.

In his entire career, Boggs had faced only one person in the Rangers lineup, and for only one at-bat. But that one person, and that one at-bat, had resulted in a double -- and not a fluke double, but a drive to the wall. The game was 2010.

That hitter? Mike Napoli.

That's whom La Russa wanted Boggs to face with two men on base in the sixth.

First pitch -- home run.

Well, Tony La Russa?

"Well," he said, "it looked like it was a bad decision."

Man, am I starting to like La Russa. I wrote that a few days ago, too: This is Tony La Russa? This humble, funny, credit-deflecting guy? He said something the other day, too, where he deflected the credit he has been getting all postseason, mainly in the St. Louis media but in other places, too, where writer-types have waxed eloquent about his unorthodox usage of the bullpen -- replacing starters in the third or fourth inning, whenever he damn well pleases. It has been working, and so La Russa has been called a genius.

This is what La Russa said about that, after Game 1: "You make a move. If it works, hey, what a good move. If it doesn't work, 'What was he thinking?' "

In other words, too much is made of the manager's move. Not enough is made of the player who executed the move, or didn't. For example, Sunday night in Game 4. Mitchell Boggs entered a 1-0 game with two runners on base, and with his first pitch he served up a delicious offering to slugger Mike Napoli.

That doesn't make La Russa a goat. Managers are almost never the goat -- or the genius -- that our myth-making media suggests.

(But I stand by that Ron Washington column from 2010. Why wasn't someone warming up for the Rangers with the game on the line and Derek Holland so clearly unable to throw a strike?)

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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