Knowing When to Say When Helped Cards Win Game 2

Nothing that Tony La Russa did on Sunday night is getting more attention than his very public griping about the strike zone of home plate umpire Jerry Meals.

La Russa argued with Meals directly and he complained about him during an in-game interview with FOX and, if you look at the strike zone plot from the game, might have won his team a close pitch or two before the night was out. Or maybe Meals would have called those pitches exactly the same way if La Russa hadn't said a word. 

It doesn't really matter because something else La Russa did wound up impacting the final score in Game 2 much more than his complaints about the umpiring. His decision to pull Chris Carpenter after three innings wound up meaning much more, especially when you compare it with what Charlie Manuel did later in the game.

Carpenter, starting on three days rest for the first time in his career, gave up three runs in the first inning and another one in the second before righting the ship and retiring the Phillies in order in the third. There are a lot of managers who would look at that and say that their pitcher had found his bearings, especially when -- like Carpenter -- said pitcher is the ace of the staff.

La Russa wasn't swayed by the strong third. Carpenter wasn't himself on Sunday and keeping him in the game meant taking the risk that the Phillies would increase their lead in the fourth. There was obviously a risk that the shaky Cardinals bullpen would wind up doing the same thing, but it was already established that Carpenter wasn't on his game so the risk was much greater if La Russa did nothing than if he rolled the dice with his bullpen.

Contrast that with what Manuel did in the seventh inning. Lee entered that inning having thrown 101 pitches, more than enough to see that he wasn't blessed with his best stuff. There were a few unfortunate results on batted balls here and there, but Lee had a heavy hand in most of the damage that led to a 4-0 lead turning into a 4-4 tie. Manuel chose to stick with Lee for one more inning, though.

Allen Craig tripled to lead off the inning, bringing up Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman against a scuffling Lee with a deep bullpen. Manuel pressed his luck with Lee, choosing to pitch to Pujols with first base empty and paying the price when Pujols singled home what would turn out to be the winning run on a perfectly mediocre belt-high pitch. Manuel still didn't make a move, waiting until Berkman also singled before finally making a move to the bullpen.

You can certainly argue that Lee "deserved" a chance to pitch himself out of trouble because he's Lee, but the same argument could have been made about Carpenter back in the fourth. The playoffs call for looking at what's right in front of your face -- not the larger backdrop. La Russa handled that better than Manuel on Sunday and that's a big reason why this series is tied as we head to St. Louis.

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