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Bewildering 'mixups' totally out of character for La Russa

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- This is the World Series, right?

This is the World Series, and it's 2011. This is the World Series, and Tony La Russa is a Hall of Fame manager.

Good. Just checking, because what we saw and heard from the Cardinals after their 4-2 loss to the Rangers Monday night did not scream "World Series." It sure didn't scream "Hall of Fame."

Instead, it screamed, "Are you serious?"

Feel free to throw in the expletive of your choice.

This is what La Russa and the Cardinals want you to believe:

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First, that the Cardinals twice had the wrong pitcher in the game in the decisive eighth inning, and that it happened because the crowd at Rangers Ballpark was so loud that bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist couldn't hear La Russa correctly on the bullpen phone -- twice. La Russa said that he actually wanted right-handed closer Jason Motte (and not left-hander Marc Rzepczynski) in the game to face Mike Napoli on the at-bat that ended with Napoli's game-winning double, but that because of the noise and the misunderstanding, Motte hadn't been warming up.

Second, that when Allen Craig was thrown out trying to steal in the seventh inning, setting up Rangers manager Ron Washington's third consecutive intentional walk of Albert Pujols, Craig was running because Pujols himself had put on a hit-and-run play, then didn't swing at Alexi Ogando's pitch because it was too far off the plate.

La Russa called the second play "a mixup."

His explanation of the eighth inning left everyone mixed up.

It was so bizarre, in fact, that if the teams had been reversed and Washington had done all this, you could imagine plenty of calls for him to be fired -- on the off day before Game 6.

Instead, this is Tony La Russa. This is the master of bullpen usage. This is the guy who is on top of everything.

This is also a guy who is so concerned with everything around him that he complained about the lights on the ribbon scoreboards in Milwaukee during a regular-season series in August.

Monday, he'll have us believe that in Game 5 of the World Series, the Cardinals lost because the crowd was too loud and they couldn't hear the right names on the phone -- and that he was totally OK with that.

"I give the fans credit," La Russa said at one point.

He does? His team lost Game 5 of the World Series because the wrong pitchers were in the game, and he gives the fans credit?

Seriously?

Back to the eighth inning, and let's try to understand what happened here.

In a 2-2 game, La Russa went to Octavio Dotel to begin the eighth, replacing starter Chris Carpenter. Dotel figured he was in the game to face right-handed hitters Michael Young, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, and that if anyone got on base, La Russa would go to Rzepczynski to face lefty David Murphy.

Young doubled to lead off the inning. Dotel then struck out Beltre.

At that point, La Russa sent pitching coach Dave Duncan to the mound, to instruct Dotel to intentionally walk Cruz.

"Why?" Dotel asked.

"Because the manager wants you to," Duncan responded, according to Dotel.

"I wanted to pitch to Cruz, I'm not going to lie," Dotel said. "Remember, I'm not the manager."

According to the manager, he had already called down to the bullpen and asked to have Rzepczynski and closer Jason Motte warm up.

The intentional walk put runners at first and second with Murphy up, and at that point La Russa called for Rzepczynski. And sometime around then, according to La Russa, he called down to the bullpen again, found out Motte still wasn't warming up, and again asked for him.

At that point, according to La Russa, Lilliquist heard "Motte" and thought he heard "Lynn," as in Lance Lynn, who threw so many pitches in Game 3 on Saturday night that he wasn't supposed to be available Monday.

Crowd noise, remember?

Murphy hit a ball that could have been an inning-ending double play, saving La Russa plenty of grief and saving us from trying to figure him out. But the ball deflected off Rzepczynski's hand for an infield single, loading the bases and bringing the dangerous Napoli to the plate.

Napoli is particularly dangerous against left-handers like Rzepczynski, which is theoretically why La Russa wanted Motte warming up. But because Motte wasn't warming, La Russa left Rzepczynski in the game, and Napoli's double put the Rangers ahead.

Later in the inning, Lynn finally trotted in from the bullpen. La Russa said he expected to see Motte coming in, and that when he saw Lynn instead, he ordered him to intentionally walk Ian Kinsler, and then brought in Motte to face Elvis Andrus.

This was all so terribly confusing, even with La Russa, a manager who has built a career on pitching changes.

Just know this: Plenty of players in the Cardinals clubhouse looked and sounded as confused as all of us were.

And just know this: In the other dugout, they didn't understand any of it, either.

"La Russa makes a lot of moves some people don't expect," Beltre said. "He's really smart. We couldn't understand what he was doing."

Up in the press box, we couldn't, either. We still can't, hours later, and believe me, we've tried.

Maybe there's a better explanation. Maybe we'll hear it in 10 hours, or in 10 years.

Right now, it just doesn't add up.

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