Swept by the Diamondbacks last weekend, St. Louis fell into a downward spiral that not only severely crimped its playoff chances but also may lead to sweeping changes that include manager Tony La Russa.
La Russa became the winningest manager in Cardinals history earlier this month in his 12th season, and he seemed to suggest last week that it may be time to move on. He would appear to have options.
Cincinnati owner Bob Castellini was a minority owner in St. Louis with La Russa and general manager Walt Jocketty, and the Reds are working under interim manager Pete Mackanin after firing Jerry Narron in July.
La Russa had a well-publicized strained relationship with third baseman Scott Rolen last season even as the Cardinals won the World Series.
“There have been periods where we have struggled, where I had to honestly let the team know we had to keep pushing,” La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“The product of that could be some strained relationships. If there is a lingering effect, that’s significant.”
While Mackanin got Cincinnati onto the cusp of the NL Central race and has the Reds playing well, the Reds have not had great success promoting interim managers – Narron was one.
La Russa said his first step is to make an internal audit to make sure he wants to keep managing.
“If the answer is ‘yes,’ is there an alternative that is a better fit?” La Russa said.
La Russa’s contract expires after this season, although pitching coach and right-hand man Dave Duncan – who has been with La Russa through stops with the White Sox, Oakland and St. Louis – has a deal through 2008.
If Duncan wants to coach pitchers in one of the two the best hitters’ parks in the NL – Cincinnati and Philadelphia are about dead even – he is a better man than most.
A GREAT FALL
Seattle was 73-53 and three games ahead of the Yankees in the AL wild card race after beating Texas on Aug. 24 before losing 13 of its next 14 games, a free fall of historic proportions
No team since 1900 had been 20 games above .500 that late in the season and suffered such a catastrophic streak, a plummet that could cost interim manager John McLaren his job.
The Mariners lost 15 of 17 games before righting themselves to win three straight. Their two victories in the earlier stretch came against Roger Clemens and Jeremy Bonderman, two pitchers who admitted later they were injured while on the mound.
“No one is trying to win two games in one game,” Ichiro Suzuki said when asked if he believed the Mariners were pressing. “If someone did 100 sprints before games, then maybe he’d be pressing, but there are no such idiots on this team.”
WORST GAME EVER
Texas’ final pitch in a 12-9 victory over Oakland last Sunday was its 230th, breaking by one the record for the most pitches in a nine-inning game since pitch counts were first tracked in 1988.
The game also included a 73-minute rain delay that forced Texas starter Kevin Millwood out of the game, and Rangers relievers Frank Francisco and Scott Feldman were so ineffective that the official scorer refused to consider them for the victory, even though each qualified.
Former D-Backs draftee Bill White was awarded the victory, the first of his career, by giving up one run in two innings.
Asked if it was the worst game in history, Rangers and former Central Arizona infielder Ian Kinsler said: “No … wait, yeah, it probably was.
“It was long, and the whole game just didn’t make any sense. We couldn’t throw a strike. They couldn’t get anyone out. I’m glad we won it, because it would have been a really bad loss.”
There were 22 hits, 15 walks (10 by Texas), four errors and two hit batters, including Kinsler. With the delay the game took five hours, 21 minutes.
MOVE OVER, LITTLE JOE
Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips is having one of the greatest seasons by a second baseman in major league history, hitting numbers that even Hall of Famer Joe Morgan did not get. Phillips entered Saturday one stolen base short of a 30-30 season, and his 30 homers broke Morgan’s franchise mark for homers at that position. Phillips also leads NL second basemen in chances and fielding percentage.
The last word
“I guess I’m Lack-tose intolerant.”
CLEVELAND THIRD BASEMAN, WHO DID NOT START AGAINST ANGELS RIGHT-HANDER JOHN LACKEY NINE DAYS AGO BECAUSE HE WAS IS 1-FOR-15 WITH FIVE STRIKEOUTS IN HIS CAREER AGAINST LACKEY.
With his 35th double a week ago, Colorado first baseman Todd Helton set a major league record with his 10th consecutive season of at least 35. Hall of Famer Tris Speaker had nine straight. “You get to be great by being good for a really long time,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.
Youth is served
Milwaukee is the second team in major league history to have four players under 25 – Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J. J. Hardy and Cory Hart – with at least 20 homers. The 1979 Montreal Expos did it with Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Larry Parrish and Ellis Valentine.
Tell your statistics to shut up
The crowd was so small at Florida’s game against Washington on Wednesday afternoon that reporters were able to do a head-count – 375 – although it was announced at 10,121. It was so small that conversations in the stands were audible on the field, and home plate umpire Paul Schreiber had one fan removed for disparaging remarks.
Seattle has a last-gasp shot at AL West leader Los Angeles with a four-game series in southern California starting Thursday.
Writers from around baseball contributed to this report