Tony La Russa presses all the right buttons as Cardinals take 3-2 lead over Brewers in NLCS

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Tony La Russa has managed well over 5,000 games in the big leagues, yet on any given day, he will do something that will make you shake your head. And the crazy thing is, he often walks away looking like a genius. Friday’s 7-1 win over the Brewers in Game 5 of the NLCS was no different.

With a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, La Russa elected to have the eighth place hitter Nick Punto bunt two runners into scoring position for the pitcher Jaime Garcia. Yes, the same Garcia who has a .137 career batting average during the regular season. Unconventional, yes, but he somehow got away with it. Garcia hit a ground ball at shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, but he couldn’t make a play on David Freese at home plate. The Cardinals extended their lead to 4-0 on the RBI groundout.

Garcia cruised through the first four innings of the ballgame, but after allowing one run on three hits in the fifth, La Russa didn’t just sit on his hands. No sir. He came with the quick hook, bringing on Octavio Dotel to face Ryan Braun with two runners on. And he got away with it once again, as Dotel struck out Braun and tossed a perfect sixth inning for good measure.

We’ll never know what would have happened had La Russa acted differently in those situations, but the Brewers didn’t exactly put themselves in position to win, as they became just the third team to commit four errors in an LCS game. Zack Greinke came up small once again, allowing five runs (two earned) on seven hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings. Sure, his defense didn’t help him any, but he faced 30 batters on the night and recorded just two swinging strikes and zero strikeouts. For someone who had 201 strikeouts over 171 2/3 innings during the regular season, that’s just plain odd. And a recipe for a bad night.

Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina each had three hits for the Cardinals while Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. The Cardinals’ bullpen now has a 1.69 ERA during the series as compared to a 6.04 ERA for their starters.

The Cardinals now hold a 3-2 advantage over the Brewers as the series shifts to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Sunday. And unless Ron Roenicke changes his mind and uses Yovani Gallardo on short-rest in the face of elimination, he’ll send the struggling Shaun Marcum to the hill against Edwin Jackson.

AP Source: RHP Eflin agrees to $40 million deal with Rays

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin has agreed to join the Tampa Bay Rays on a three-year, $40 million contract that’s the largest the club has ever awarded in free agency, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press.

The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity Thursday night because the agreement was subject to a successful physical and had not been announced.

Eflin, who spent portions of seven seasons with the Phillies, will join a rotation that includes All-Star lefty Shane McClanahan and right-handers Tyler Glasnow and Drew Rasmussen with the Rays, who will pay him $11 million in 2023, $11 million in 2024 and $18 million in 2025.

The 28-year-old right-hander began last season as a starter and later worked out of the bullpen for the NL champions, going 3-5 with a 4.04 ERA in 20 appearances. Overall, he has a 36-45 career record with a 4.49 ERA over 127 games, including 115 starts.

He appeared in 10 games as a reliever during Philadelphia’s postseason run this year, going 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA over 10 2/3 innings.

The $40 million commitment to Eflin is the largest the budget-minded Rays have made to a free agent, surpassing the five-year, $35 million contract pitcher Wilson Alvarez signed in 1998, and the two-year, $30 million deal right-hander Charlie Morton received in 2019.