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.”
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.