04/08/11 11:00 PM ET
La Russa's five-infielder strategy pays off
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called on a rarely used tactic in the 11th inning of the Cardinals' loss to the Giants on Friday, bringing in a fifth infielder for two batters in order to try to keep San Francisco off the scoreboard. Though the Giants went on to win the game in the 12th, the move paid off handsomely in the 11th.
Andres Torres had started the inning with a double down the right-field line against rookie reliever Bryan Augenstein, then took third on a wild pitch. Thus, nearly any ball to the outfield would end the game, especially with Torres' speed. So La Russa summoned left fielder Allen Craig to come in and serve as an extra infielder.
It worked perfectly. Freddy Sanchez struck out, and Aaron Rowand hit a ball right at Craig for a fielder's choice for the second out. Craig made an impressive play to stab the ball down the line and fired home to catcher Yadier Molina, and Molina threw to third baseman Daniel Descalso who tagged Torres to complete the rundown.
"I didn't really think about it," Craig said. "They told me to come in, so I went there. It's a little strange. I've never done that before. But I kind of knew it was coming to me in that situation. I had to be ready. In those situations, the ball's going to be hit to you because that's just how the game is."
With the second out secured, the Cards intentionally walked the bases loaded, and Augenstein struck out Mark DeRosa to end the threat.
"You've got to tip your cap to Tony," Rowand said. "It paid off for him."
The ball bounced the right way for the Cardinals, but none of it would have worked out if Augenstein had not made the pitches.
"That's what you live for in Major League Baseball, is to work your way out of it and see how tough you are," Augenstein said. "In that situation, you try to get a ground ball and give them a chance. That's what happened, and he made a great play."
La Russa explained after the game that the move was the product of a large number of factors, not just what was on the scoreboard.
"Sometimes I think it makes sense, and I thought that was a good time," he said. "Sanchez, if he's going to beat you, it's more line drives than ground balls. But I used it for Rowand, too. Had the right pitcher, too. A lot of the time Augenstein will get a ground ball."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer, and follow him on Twitter @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.