On the night on which the Cardinals retired Tony La Russa’s old number 10, his successor honored the former skipper by being his own man.
To be sure, Mike Matheny channeled TLR on a couple of conventional moves, such as sacrificing in a tie game in the ninth and tenth innings. But those were also the right decisions.
Among the anti-La Russian calls that Matheny made:
- Started the lefthanded Matt Carpenter at third base vs. a southpaw when a righty (David Freese) was available.
- Left Skip Schumacher in to play second base late in the game after pinch hitting. In the TLR era, it most often worked the opposite way, with Schumaker giving way to the defensively preferred Tyler Greene or Dan Descalso.
- Brought Jason Motte into a tie game in the ninth inning. What’s more, he did it when the opposing lineup called for a LOOGy, which he had in the bullpen.
- Left Motte in to pitch a second inning when he had other relievers available.
Not all of Matheny’s calls were wise. He decided to leave LOOGy Marc Rzepczynski in to face the righthanded bopper Dan Uggla, who hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh (in addition to La Russa’s number, we should also retire the term LOOGy, since it’s no longer applicable these days). And he ordered an intentional walk to Michael Bourn with a runner on second and a tie game (that led to a bases-loaded walk to give the Braves a lead in the eighth). In what turned out to be a fatal decision, Matheny opted to let second-tier reliever Kyle McClellan pitch a second inning and face Chipper Jones and Jason Heyward, who had four walks and a home run between them in six plate appearances against K-Mac, in the 11th. No matter how bad JC Romero is, La Russa would’ve almost certainly called him in.
But winning or losing move, it’s becoming clear that Matheny is staking out his own unique claim on the game, at least as much as a new manager working for a fairly conservative organization could hope to. Let’s face it, the cardinals weren’t going to hire a revolutionary, so Matheny’s individualism is noteworthy.