La Russa still undecided on returning to Cardinals in 2011

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Tony La Russa: will he or won’t he return for another season as manager of the Cardinals?

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is about as close to the team’s thinking as a columnist can get and passes along some insight in his Sunday edition of “Bernie’s Bytes.”

First, Miklasz says that the decision to return or not to return will be up to La Russa himself.  Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt III and GM John Mozeliak are firmly in the skipper’s corner despite a disappointing 2010 finish and a highly publicized mid-season rift with star center fielder Colby Rasmus. 

If La Russa leaves, it will be because he wanted to go.  If he stays, it will be on his own terms.

By all accounts, the 65-year-old La Russa should commit for at least one more season in St. Louis.  He’ll have a roster in 2011 that includes this generation’s greatest hitter in Albert Pujols, two Cy Young candidates in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, and a well-paid and highly-productive left fielder in Matt Holliday.  Oh, and let’s not forget about young left-hander Jaime Garcia, who might win the National League’s Rookie of the Year this season.

La Russa also ranks third on the list of all-time managerial wins with 2,628, behind only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763).  It’s feasible that he will catch McGraw and move into second place all-time with just two more years on the job.  That might not be the most important thing to La Russa, but he’s certainly not immune to the lure of establishing a long-lasting legacy.

La Russa has been operating on one-year contracts for a few seasons now.  If we’re to believe the current indications, he will likely ink a similar deal before winter fully sets in.

Phillies walk off winners thanks to a poor decision by Marcell Ozuna

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The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.

In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.

On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.

Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.