Daniel Descalso, Jason Motte and Rafael Furcal of the St. Louis Cardinals walk to the mound in the ninth inning after the Texas Rangers tie the game during Game Two of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Let's not even talk about the first eight innings.
Let's not talk about Elvis Andrus's brilliant defense, or Allen Craig's repeat performance, or the various other events that, had they gone the other way by just an inch or three, might have broken open Game 2 for one team or the other.
Let's instead skip ahead to the ninth inning. Before the ninth inning, the players played and the managers hardly managed. Not so's you could tell, anyway. The starting pitchers pitched and the fielders fielded and the hitters hit (but not much). The Cardinals did take a 1-0 lead in the seventh on Craig's pinch-hit single off Alexi Ogando -- yes, just like in Game 1 -- but Ogando was the obvious move for Ron Washington and Craig was the obvious counter-move for Tony La Russa.
The eighth? La Russa had to deploy relief pitchers, because his starting pitcher had been lifted for Craig in the seventh. He went to Fernando Salas first, and then Marc Rzepczynski, who -- yes, just like in Game 1 -- breezed through the Rangers' weak right-handed bench players. Ron Washington summoned Mike Adams to face the Cardinals because Mike Adams is the eighth-inning guy, and Adams got into some trouble before getting out of it.
So, the ninth. To this point, Tony La Russa had not done anything that any reasonably experienced Strat-O-Matic manager would not have done; neither had Ron Washington. Continuing with the mundane, La Russa called upon right-handed reliever Jason Motte, who's been saving games for only a couple of months but had faced 25 batters this month and retired 24 of them. There was no other move to make, and Washington could have no active response; the top of the Rangers' lineup was due next.
In the person of Ian Kinsler, who got enough wood on one of Motte's cutters to bloop a single into the outfield.
Enter Ron Washington. You might have expected a bunt from Elvis Andrus, who led the league with 17 sacrifice bunts last year and laid down 16 more this year. Washington flashed a signal to third-base coach Dave Anderson, who relayed the secret to Andrus.
Kinsler had something else in mind.
Kinsler's a fast runner. Motte's got little experience in holding runners close to first base. Yadier Molina's one of the best in the business. Kinsler weighed those facts, and made a decision. Kinsler might run.
Andrus took a pitch for a ball. Andrus took a pitch for a strike. One wonders what Washington was thinking, as he stood on the dugout steps and silently implored Andrus to get the bunt down.
Motte's third pitch was hard and high and Andrus was going to bunt because his manager wanted him to but then he noticed that Kinsler, running at his discretion, had gotten a good jump and Andrus pulled back his bat and took a high strike.
It was a great pitch for Molina to turn around in a hurry. But Kinsler was too fast, and got too good a jump, and made too perfect a headlong dive toward second base, his left hand hitting the bag just a split-second before the tag could be applied.
Just one too, or even two toos, and Kinsler would have been out and the Cardinals would probably be making their way to Texas with a two-game lead in a best-of-seven series. But three toos were enough to get Kinsler to second base without a bunt.
Three toos weren't enough to get Tony La Russa seriously involved. No, that happened only after Andrus drove a single into center field, and Albert Pujols let the resulting throw escape, which allowed Andrus to reach second while Kinsler remained on third.
Now La Russa got involved. La Russa has never officially anointed Jason Motte as his closer. Well, in Game 2 he proved it. Managers stick with their closers, especially when their closers have thrown only 12 pitches and allowed just one well-struck hit. But Motte isn't a closer. And Motte throws with his right arm. And Josh Hamilton, who bats left-handed, was coming up. And out in the bullpen was Arthur Rhodes, who throws with his left arm and had struck out Hamilton in Game 1.
La Russa made the move. Even though his team needed a strikeout and Motte's a strikeout pitcher and Rhodes isn't, really. Rhodes' first pitch was a hanging slider, heading right for Hamilton's happy zone. The Cardinals were lucky, momentarily anyway, because Hamilton didn't hit a home run; instead he lofted a fly ball to right field, deep enough that Kinsler scored easily and Andrus took third.
La Russa's work was nearly done. With righty-hitting Michael Young up next, La Russa replaced Rhodes with Lance Lynn, but that was another Strat-O-Matic move. Young sent another fly ball to the outfield, again deep enough to score the runner from third, this time with the lead run.
I said nearly. With the score still 2-1, Yadier Molina led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. La Russa replaced Molina with another, slightly faster catcher. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the bottom of the order was coming up and the bench was plumb empty. Nick Punto, then Skip Schumaker, then No. 1 hitter Rafael Furcal.
Feliz throws really hard. It's hard to a bunt a baseball that's heading toward you at 100 miles an hour with movement. La Russa flashed the bunt sign to his third-base coach, who sent it along. Punto tried to bunt the ball. He really did. Twice. Then he really tried to hit, and struck out.
La Russa was finished. He didn't have any pinch-hitters left. He didn't have any pinch-runners left. Gerald Laird wasn't going to do what Ian Kinsler had done. La Russa could only watch Schumaker strike out, and Furcal loop a routine fly ball into right field, where Nelson Cruz did the routine thing.
Was Tony La Russa out-managed by Ron Washington in Game 2? What is the sound of one hand clapping? Does a dog have Buddha nature? When Tony La Russa makes the wrong move, do the Baseball Gods cry?
When you have answered one of those questions, you will have answered them all.