10/13/05 1:00 AM ET
It's all fundamental for the Cards
St. Louis operates with precision in the playoffs
When he says "play," he means play at the highest level, which is the expectation around here, not the exception.You could call it Tonyball, because it's certainly the way La Russa implores his Cardinals to go about their business. It's not like he invented these things, and he doesn't claim to have invented them. This is the way to play good baseball. But from the first day of Spring Training, La Russa makes sure those elements are in place, fully ingrained in the brains of everybody wearing a Cardinals uniform. "From Day 1, he'll tell you: 'We're working from the ground up,'" said shortstop David Eckstein. "We're working on those things constantly. He expects the execution part of it out of you." It's not hope. It's not wish. It's not asking. It's expectation, pure and simple. And these Cardinals deliver. "He expects his players to do all those things," Grudzielanek said. "There's no, 'I can't do that.' There's no, 'I don't want to do it that way.' It's just the way things are done here." La Russa doesn't let that preparation go to waste, either. The suicide squeeze by Carpenter was the Cardinals' second of the postseason, and in the regular season they went 15-for-18 on squeezes -- you might not find another team that was that successful at that rate on regular old sacrifice bunts. One key element, of course, is having the right people in the right places to get these little things done. When you have a double-play combination like the Cardinals have this year in Grudzielanek and Eckstein, it helps. When you have pitchers like Carpenter who make very few mistakes, induce ground balls in bunches and can lay down the perfect squeeze, it helps. When you have everyone on the same page like the Cardinals do, it definitely helps. Sure, there were a few things in Wednesday night's game that weren't perfectly pristine. There was (gasp) an error, an aggressive one made by Eckstein in the ninth on a ball he probably should have just eaten, but very nearly turned into something spectacular. Hey, nobody's perfect. Not even surgeons. Ever hear of malpractice insurance? But nobody was making any claims against the quality of the Cardinals' operation Wednesday night. Nobody could -- it wouldn't hold up in court. It was just another successful procedure, and you know they'll be breaking out the scalpels again Thursday in Game 2.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.