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World Series 2001
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10/15/2001 03:20 AM ET
Cardinals notebook: McGwire contemplates future
By Tom Singer
MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Following a bitter loss in the 1986 American League Championship Series to the Boston Red Sox, Angels second baseman Bobby Grich abruptly announced his retirement.

Mark McGwire was not as dramatic after his Cardinals were eliminated by Sunday night's 2-1 loss to Arizona in Game 5 of the Division Series. Perhaps he did not want to steal any of the thunder of what he called "classic playoff baseball."

Still, it was clear to everyone that 42,810 in Bank One Ballpark and a TV audience of millions may have been witness to the slugger's final game.

It was most clear to St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa, who was already haunted by his decision to pull McGwire for a ninth-inning pinch-hitter, to bunt the potential lead run into scoring position.

La Russa defended the decision in baseball terms; he needed to advance that runner to second, and McGwire wasn't about to try to execute his first bunt in a decade.

But then the manager said softly, "My heart is pure. And if it turns out that I took away what might've been his last at-bat ... it would break my heart."

"Yeah, this might've been my last game," said McGwire, quickly adding, "But that's nothing new. Like I've been saying all along, I'll sit back and think about things. The body can only go so far.

"I'll sit back and analyze it. I'll let you guys know by fax or email."

His production was beaten down, and he was mentally beaten, by a chronic sore knee. McGwire, who turned 38 a week before this Division Series began, batted .187 with 29 homers and 64 RBIs during the regular season. He started three of the postseason games and also had a pinch-hitting appearance, going 1-for-11 while striking out six times.

Five of the whiffs came in six at-bats against Curt Schilling.

A media person who doesn't grasp the depth of McGwire's frustration, and approached his possible retirement in baseball terms, wondered whether it would be hard for him to walk away with 583 career homers. Wouldn't he want to get the four he needs to pass Frank Robinson for fourth place on the all-time list?

"It's not about 'want.' It's about 'can'," he said. "I don't play for numbers, or for money. Numbers have no effect on why or how I play baseball.

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"Fifth or 10th on the list, it makes no difference to me. It's pretty good company either way. I'm very proud of where I'm at."

Proud, and at peace?

He will let us know soon.

Tony La Russa hates losing, but he can appreciate the good in the team that beats him. Following Sunday night's devastating loss, he took time to marvel at Curt Schilling and feel good for Matt Williams.

Williams, of course, had been 0-for-15 and the victim of merciless hometown booing until delivering the ninth-inning double that turned into the Division Series' winning run.

"Matt had a tough series, but I read that (Arizona Manager) Bob Brenly had said that he thought at some point Matt Williams was going to make a contribution. When I saw that," La Russa said, "I applauded him.

"That was classic. When the player reads that, it makes him feel good to know that people still have faith in him."

What La Russa left unsaid is that, obviously, he was trying the same approach by playing McGwire. Only, that faith wasn't rewarded quite as dramatically.

Fernando Vina's fifth-inning at-bat would have been one of the keys had the Cardinals worn down Schilling and pulled out a win.

Fouling off tough pitch after tough pitch before finally delivering a single, Vina made Schilling throw him 12 pitches.

What made that so notable, and potentially so valuable, was that in each of the previous two innings, Schilling had to make a total of only 10 pitches to retire the side.

Post-pourri

  • The Cardinals' historical record in postseason Games 5 now stands at 6-13.
  • The Redbirds had so much confidence in Matt Morris, La Russa even allowed himself one of managing's no-nos, looking forward to a possible League Series date with the Braves. "If we could win this game," he'd said before it began, "we're really excited about the way our pitching lines up for the next series."
  • To that end, La Russa hoped to be able to give Woody Williams, who would've opened up against Atlanta, the go-ahead to get in his off-day throwing late in the game. Seeing Williams throw in the pen would've been the equivalent of Red Auerbach's victory cigar. Alas, the Cards never did get to light up.

    Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com