ST LOUIS, MO: Jaime Garcia of the St. Louis Cardinals hands the ball to manager Tony LaRussa after Garcia was taken out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers during Game Five of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
You're not supposed to order a sacrifice bunt when your pitcher's on deck.
You're not supposed to yank your starting pitcher with two outs in the fifth inning, when he's pitched effectively and you've got a three-run lead.
You're not supposed to do a lot of things.
Tony La Russa does them anyway, and Friday night that led to a 7-1 Cardinals win over the Brewers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 series edge.
In the bottom of the fourth, David Freese and Yadier Molina opened the inning with a singles. Due up next: La Russa's No. 8 and 9 hitters, Nick Punto and pitcher Jaime García. The tactic there is obvious: Let Punto hit away, because there's little point in counting on García to do anything but strike out.
La Russa didn't care. He ordered Punto, a switch-hitter with the platoon advantage, to lay down a bunt. Which he did, pushing Freese and Molina to third and second. And García? Why of course he hit a high chopper up the middle, an easy out but also an easy sprint home for Freese with the Cardinals' fourth run.
Moments later, La Russa outdid himself.
Jaime García had been cruising through the first four innings. Scattered a few hits, didn't walk anybody. Carlos Gomez led off the fifth for Milwaukee, and García struck him out. Jonathan Lucroy lined a pitch toward right field and Albert Pujols probably should have caught it, but didn't. Greinke sacrificed, Lucroy moved.
By now, La Russa had Octavio Dotel getting loose in the bullpen. Still, there seemed little cause for alarm. There were two outs and García was still pitching a shutout. Why would Dotel even be stirring?
Because Tony La Russa thinks ahead.
Cory Hart singled, and Lucroy scored. Jerry Hairston Jr. singled, and Hart stopped at second.
Which brought the proceedings to the point La Russa had already considered: two runners aboard, Ryan Braun stepping to the plate with a legitimate shot at tying the game with one mighty swing.
La Russa would not let that happen. Dotel had struck out Braun seven times in nine at-bats, plus of course he throws right-handed while García does not. Braun's a fantastic hitter no matter who's pitching. But Tony La Russa could not live with himself if he let Ryan Braun beat Jaime García in that situation. He could live with himself if Braun beat Dotel, so in came Dotel.
Who struck out Ryan Braun, again.
Of course that was just the beginning for La Russa's bullpen, which has been generally outstanding throughout this postseason. Dotel was followed by Lance Lynn, who was followed by Mark Rzepczynski, who was followed by closer Jason Motte, who squelched a threat in the eighth inning and stuck around in the ninth for the save.
So the big reasons for the Cardinals' Game 5 victory include La Russa's managing, the bullpen's brilliance, and García's four strong innings. The hitters didn't actually do a whole lot, especially before the eighth when Matt Holliday's two-out double provided a couple of insurance runs. They didn't hit a home run, and while they did collect 10 hits, only four came with runners in scoring position and many good opportunities were missed.
The other big reason was the Brewers' porous defense. In the bottom of the second, third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. let a ground ball go right through his legs, turning a 1-0 game into a 3-0 game.
And in the sixth, Yuniesky Betancourt's two-out error, on another routine grounder, led to the Cardinals fifth run.*
* Rickie Weeks also made an error behind Greinke, but that didn't lead directly to any scoring. And in the eighth, the Brewers made it four errors when Marco Estrada's pickoff throw eluded Prince Fielder.
Still, it wasn't a good start for Greinke. After leading the major leagues during the season with 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, he recorded exactly zero strikeouts in Game 5 before getting yanked after Albert Pujols drove in that fifth St. Louis run with a single. He's now started three postseason games, and been hit hard in three postseason games. He and everyone else can only hope he gets a shot at No. 4 in the World Series. But that will be up to Greinke's teammates. And, to some degree, the limits of Tony La Russa's intellect.
There are limits, aren't there?