Last week every indication was that Tony La Russa planned to return for his 17th season as Cardinals manager and even today when the Cardinals announced a press conference few people suspected it had anything to do with the manager.
Turns out he’s decided to go out on top, with La Russa making the surprise retirement announcement this morning.
La Russa calls it quits just 35 wins away from passing John McGraw for second place on the all-time list behind Connie Mack, but the 67-year-old manager’s place in Cooperstown is plenty secure with a 2,728-2,365 (.536) record over 33 seasons and World Series titles in 1989, 2006, and 2011.
La Russa revealed that he’s been thinking about retiring since August, but general manager John Mozeliak tried to talk him out of it. “I think this feels like it’s time to end it. And it’ll be great for the Cardinals to refresh what’s going on with the field manager job. … Look in the mirror and I know if I came back it would be for the wrong reasons.”
Regarding his retirement plans, La Russa brought up possibly buying a minor-league team and wondered if “the phone will ring” for another job in baseball.
La Russa noted that Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh, and Sparky Anderson regretted retiring as quickly as they did, but said he’s been thinking about it for a while and the experience of the playoff run never changed his feeling that stepping down was the right thing. “If we won, if we lost, it wasn’t going to change.”
On being 35 wins away from passing John McGraw, he said: “I’m aware of the history of the game, but it wouldn’t be right to come back to manage just to move up one spot. It’s not something that motivates me.”
On telling the team after yesterday’s World Series rally: “I was encouraged that some grown men cried. I liked that, because they made me cry.”
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.