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La Russa returns to Fall Classic10/21/2004 10:34 PM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa is finally back in the World Series after three previous tries to manage the St. Louis Cardinals beyond the National League Championship Series. And that means he now has a chance to join a very exclusive club.
La Russa can join Sparky Anderson as the only managers to win World Series in both leagues.
Anderson managed Cincinnati's Big Red Machine to World Series championships in 1975 and '76. He then moved to the American League and managed the Detroit Tigers to the 1984 World Series title on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
La Russa managed the Oakland A's to the World Series from 1988-90 and they won it all in 1989. He became the Cardinals skipper in 1996, and led the club to the NLCS that October, as well as in 2000 and '02.
Now that the Cardinals have survived a seven-game series against the Astros with Thursday's 5-2 victory, the winningest active manager -- with 2,114 victories since first taking over as the White Sox's skipper in 1979 -- has his shot at a second title when St. Louis opens the World Series on Saturday night in Boston.
"Well, there's all kind of meaning," he said when asked what it would mean to bring St. Louis its first World Series championship since 1982. "I think mostly about the guys who are part of our club -- only three guys have rings. So to play in the World Series, there's a lot of guys who have never been to the World Series before. That has great meaning; that's enough motivation there to play as good and as hard as we can.
"Obviously, you're always reminded here -- every day I've been in this organization, there's a reminder of the Cardinals organization, Hall of Famers, people associated with the ballclub in the office. They like to compete, they like to win their share. Now we have a shot."
La Russa made a key decision in helping get this club over the hump Thursday. Facing a 2-0 deficit in the third inning, the Cardinals had Tony Womack on third after a double and a groundout by Mike Matheny. La Russa then called for a suicide squeeze, and Jeff Suppan dropped it perfectly, allowing St. Louis to manufacture what was then a golden run against Houston starter Roger Clemens.
"You see he's pitching well, so a man on second with nobody out is one of those situations that are big momentum things," La Russa said. "If they can stop you from scoring, they get the momentum. If you can score, if it happens, it's something good for you. We were at the bottom of the lineup. I thought we weren't going to bunt the man over at third, but Mike Matheny did a great job of getting him over.
"That's a high-risk play. You put it on, because if you don't, I don't think Sup is going to hit the ball out of the infield. So sometimes you go ahead and take a shot. Worst thing that can happen is Edgar [Renteria] is leading off the next inning."
La Russa allowed himself to bask just for a bit in the glow of winning a pennant -- in a year in which St. Louis generally was predicted to finish no better than third in its division. His club won 105 games in the regular season, one shy of the franchise record, set in 1942.
"We went against the odds," he said. "We definitely won a lot of games, like the four we won this series, a lot of close games. We were just relentless. I've only seen a couple of clubs I've been with, that once we started playing well refused to back off. I think we always talked about [how] our division was so tough, we just didn't want to open the door for anybody. But that's hard to do.
"So, I mean, we had a lot of tough games, played great for a long time. These guys are really special between the ears, but we've won a lot of tough games. It hasn't been easy."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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