Hall of Famer Tony La Russa developed a reputation as a master strategist while managing the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals to a total of three World Series championships.
His second tenure with the Chicago White Sox is off to a bumpy start. And a decision in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Cincinnati will only raise more doubts about whether he is the right person for the job.
La Russa acknowledged he was unaware of a rule that would have allowed him to use José Abreu as the automatic runner at second base rather than closer Liam Hendriks in the 10th inning.
“I’ll re-read that situation,” he said. “I’m guessing you know the rules there. Now, I know.”
The pandemic rule states the runner must be the batter preceding that inning’s leadoff hitter, but there is an exception if it would be the pitcher.
Abreu walked with one out in the ninth before Andrew Vaughn grounded into a double play. Michael Kopech struck out the first two batters in the bottom half before giving up a single and two walks - one intentional - to load the bases.
The White Sox then made a double switch. Jake Lamb went in to play left field in Vaughn’s place and took the pitcher’s spot in the order, with Hendriks taking over for Kopech and replacing Vaughn in the fifth spot.
Chicago got out of that jam, sending the game to extra innings. But when the 10th inning started, Hendriks was on second base when Abreu could have been there.
“You have to use whoever made the last out, and that was Vaughn - not Abreu,” La Russa said. “Vaughn made the last out.”
When a reporter mentioned the exception involving the pitcher’s spot, he acknowledged he was not aware.
“I didn’t know that,” La Russa said. “We all thought that Liam was gonna be the runner and that’s how it went. We wanted a double switch to keep him in the game. If you look to Abreu, back to (Yoán) Moncada, so-forth, that’s not who you want to double-switch out of the game. I wasn’t aware that Abreu could have run. I thought it had to be the guy that made the last out - or that spot in the order.”
The White Sox had runners on first and third with one out. Leury García got thrown out trying to steal second and Billy Hamilton struck out. The Reds won it when Jesse Winker singled in the 10th inning.
La Russa had no second thoughts about attempting to steal, saying “the base was there to be stolen; we didn’t steal it.”
But had he realized Abreu could have started the inning on second base instead of Hendriks?
“If I had known that,” La Russa said. “I didn’t know that. I’ll check the rule. That was why guys on the bench came up and questioned me about Liam was gonna be the runner. I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ So we didn’t know it.”
La Russa trails only Connie Mack and John McGraw with 2,744 victories. But when the White Sox hired him to replace Rick Renteria, the move raised more than a few eyebrows.
La Russa, 76, hadn’t filled out a lineup card since 2011, when St. Louis beat Texas in the World Series. And the White Sox, with a fun-loving team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, had their sights set high. They are second in the AL Central at 16-13.
La Russa has come under question for leaving Matt Foster and Lucas Giolito in games too long. This time, he was unaware of a rule. And pitcher Dallas Keuchel could see why.
“Honestly, I really had no idea,” he said. “I feel like I’ve seen some wacky and weird stuff happen in this game. In my opinion that’s really one that you kind of chalk up to how lengthy the rulebook is, especially how some of these rule changes have happened in the last couple years. If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s kind of everybody’s fault.”
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