Tony calls bullpen, gets wrong numbers
Skipper blames bizarre pitching sequence on miscommunication
ARLINGTON -- The line between the visitors' dugout and the Cardinals' bullpen at Rangers Ballpark is a direct one, connected by a pair of phones that, elsewhere, might appear quite antiquated. In this setting, though, this means for sending a message had always been an effective one.
Something happened during that delivery Monday, though, something that, for the Cardinals, loomed especially large in the outcome. Something that, should St. Louis eventually lose this World Series, will be pointed at as the moment the Series turned for the worst.
A bizarre sequence of eighth-inning events was followed by an even more peculiar explanation after St. Louis' 4-2 loss to the Rangers on Monday. It was miscommunication on the dugout and bullpen phones, manager Tony La Russa said, not tactical error, that left him without his desired matchup in the most crucial moment of a tie game in a tied World Series.
La Russa made his first eighth-inning phone call after Michael Young doubled off Octavio Dotel to start the inning. With the game even at 2, bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist picked up, took the message and summoned Marc Rzepczynski to begin warming up.
Shortly afterward, La Russa looked down to the left-field bullpen and realized only one reliever was getting ready. During his call, he had asked for two: the lefty Rzepczynski and the right-handed Jason Motte.
Lilliquist later explained he never heard the second name.
When La Russa realized that Motte wasn't throwing, he said he made a second call to Lilliquist. More miscommunication ensued. La Russa again asked for Motte. This time Lilliquist heard Lynn, after which he hung up the phone and told right-hander Lance Lynn to start warming up.
"It's just like any other park," Lilliquist said. "You get a bunch of people and it's loud and he wanted Motte going easy to back [Rzepczynski] up, and I thought I heard Lynn."
Added La Russa: "It wasn't supposed to be Lynn because he wasn't going to pitch today."
La Russa had actually announced that to reporters two days earlier when, after Lynn threw 47 pitches in a Game 3 appearance, he said he would stay away from using the rookie reliever until, at earliest, Game 6.
Regardless, Lilliquist didn't question what he thought he heard. Nor was Lynn caught off guard by Lilliquist's directive to get ready.
"I was never told that I wasn't available," Lynn said. "I want to pitch every day. You're never surprised when you get a phone call. If you're surprised when you get a phone call, you're not ready to go. I'm always ready to go at any time."
La Russa's objective in getting Rzepczynski and Motte ready at the same time was to prepare for a pair of scenarios that the St. Louis manager knew might unfold as the inning progressed.
After Young doubled and Dotel struck out Adrian Beltre, La Russa had Dotel intentionally walk Nelson Cruz. La Russa followed by calling in Rzepczynski for the left-on-left matchup against David Murphy.
CALL TO THE BULLPEN
-- If Rzepczynski gets Murphy out, La Russa would have Rzepczynski pitch around the right-handed-hitting Mike Napoli and then take his chances against left-handed-hitting Mitch Moreland.
-- If Murphy reaches, La Russa would call in Motte to counter Napoli.
Murphy did reach when his grounder caromed off Rzepczynski, changing directions enough that second baseman Nick Punto no longer had a shot at turning an inning-ending double play. That loaded the bases.
But because Motte had not started warming up after La Russa's first call to the 'pen, the Cardinals manager had no choice but to stick with Rzepczynski. It was a less-than-favorable matchup against Napoli, and one that seemed a surprising choice for onlookers, given how frequently La Russa matches up his pitchers so deliberately against opposing hitters.
Perhaps the least surprised was Rzepczynski, who, unaware that there had been any miscommunication, simply assumed his manager believed he could retire Napoli. He was asked afterward if he was at all surprised when La Russa did not make the pitching change.
"No, not at all," Rzepczynski said. "With Moreland being on deck, I knew I had another chance to face a lefty. I've gotten out Napoli before."
Three pitches into the at-bat, Napoli delivered a go-ahead, two-run double. It was Napoli's second hit in six career at-bats against the St. Louis lefty.
"He fouled [a slider] off and I went back at him for one more," Rzepczynski said. "If I bury it down and in, maybe it's on the ground and it's a double play and maybe we're still playing."
With two runners in scoring position, Rzepczynski did get a critical strikeout of Moreland for the inning's second out. That brought La Russa back out of the dugout, this time signaling for a right-hander reliever to face Ian Kinsler.
He was in for a surprise.
Thinking Motte would jog out of the bullpen, La Russa instead saw Lynn.
"I went, 'Oh, what are you doing here?'" La Russa said, unaware until then of the second phone mishap.
That presented La Russa with a new issue. He didn't want Lynn to pitch because of that lengthy outing Lynn made Saturday. But now La Russa had no choice, as there were no other ready relievers.
La Russa's solution was to have Lynn intentionally walk Kinsler. While he did, La Russa had Motte, who this time got the message, rushed to get ready. After ball four, La Russa returned to the mound and took the ball from Lynn, making Lynn just the third pitcher in World Series history to appear in a game solely to issue an intentional walk.
It was during this visit from La Russa that Lynn said he first found out about the communication gaffe.
Motte was in the dark much longer. It wasn't until a reporter asked Motte about the miscommunication in a postgame interview that he knew there had ever even been any.
"We don't try to overanalyze things," Motte explained. "When we're told to get up, we get up. It's as simple as that. We don't think, 'Oh, we should put this guy in.' That's not our job. Our job is to, when our name is called, get loose and put our focus on what we need to focus on and do our job.
"I don't sit out there and think, 'Tony should do this. Tony should do that.' I think everyone out there, when the phone rings, we get going when we're told. I started throwing when I was told to start throwing."
He ended up finishing out the inning with a strikeout to keep the deficit at two. But by then, the damage had been done.
Afterward, the miscommunication was blamed on noise, which, La Russa explained, made it hard for Lilliquist to hear. Several relievers noted afterward that the location of the bullpen phone adds to the difficulties, as it's in an area that gets especially loud during games.
"We can't even hear the phone ring out there," Lynn said.
"It was loud," Lilliquist added. "A lot of places are like that. The phone is as good as any phone anywhere."
La Russa said such a noise issue is not uncommon and suggested that smoke signals or ear mikes would perhaps be better options.
Obviously, the latter options were given in an apparent attempt to add a lighthearted note to an otherwise pointed news conference.
The laughs may have briefly broken some tension, but they did not sugarcoat the outcome. As a result of the communication blunders, the Cardinals are now staring at two must-win games.
"It must be loud," La Russa conceded. "I give the fans credit."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.