9th inning. Two Outs. Down by a run. Bases loaded. Home field advantage for the World Series hanging in the balance.
Sounds like a pretty good spot to use Albert Pujols right?
Tony La Russa evidently didn't think so, as he elected to let Aaron Rowand take his second at bat with the game on the line. While home field advantage in the World Series doesn't matter much to La Russa and the Cardinals, I am sure fans of the Mets, Brewers, and Padres were sitting at home pulling their hair out over Tony's choice not to have Pujols hit. So was there a method to his madness? According to La Russa, he was trying to protect his team in case the game went into extra innings:
"Once we lost [Miguel] Cabrera and [Freddy] Sanchez, he was the guy we were going to use to protect ourselves in case we kept playing because of Albert's versatility," La Russa said. "I think we had the right guy at bat."
I'm sorry, but that excuse just does not hold water. By that logic, LaRussa would have never inserted Pujols into the lineup unless another player experienced a freak injury in extra innings. LaRussa misses the point of course, that you have to get to extra innings before you can begin strategizing for them.
The bigger problem for La Russa though, is that it is not only fans of National League contenders that are upset with his choice. His star player is as well. After the game, Pujols had the following to say on La Russa's choice to use every other position player except himself:
"It's the All-Star Game. He can do what he wants," Pujols said Tuesday night. "He does whatever he wants. If I wasn't expecting to play, I wouldn't have come up here."
If La Russa was determined to save one player for extra innings, why did he pick his own star player to tick off? And if it was La Russa's strategy all along to save Pujols, shouldn't he have at least given Albert a heads up? A tiff between the manager and the star of the team is certainly not what the struggling Cardinals need right now. The truly odd part of all of this is that La Russa created the situation entirely by himself. No matter how much he attempts to rationalize his choice, La Russa made a bone headed move strategically both in regards to the All Star game and his relationship with Pujols.