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Tony La Russa takes blame for St. Louis Cardinals' World Series bullpen phone follies

ST. LOUIS — Bobby Valentine thought about the bizarre events he had seen in Game 5 of the World Series, when 19th-century technology fouled up Tony La Russa and the Cardinals.

"It's kind of stupid, isn't it?" said Valentine, who has managed more than 2,000 major-league games.

In the age of email, texting and webcams, baseball remains tied to the traditions established in the Civil War era of flannel uniforms. La Russa conveyed his decisions to the bullpen with a device born the same year as the National League: the telephone.

And when the instructions didn't get through to bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist — twice! — baseball lore was made with St. Louis' 4-2 loss to the Rangers on Monday night.

Now the Cardinals trail 3-2 in the Series and must win two in a row for the title.

La Russa accepted the blame. "It comes down to who has the responsibility when there's those kind of miscommunications," he said. "It's mine."

From the bullpen, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

"Every time I heard the phone ring, somebody got going," Jason Motte said. "As far as I know, there wasn't a missed call or anything like that."

And Motte, the reliever who was supposed to face Mike Napoli but never did, was right where he was expected to be. Not away in the bathroom, or back in the clubhouse.

"It's happened before, when you'll be sitting there and feel like you have to pee," said Motte, who emphasized that was not the case in this instance. "But even if it did, I don't think it would affect us from going out there."

After the game, with the ballpark nearly empty, the bullpen phone 400 or so feet away could be heard ringing when the narrow black handset with the gray pushbuttons was picked up in the visitors dugout on the third-base side. But with a crowd of 51,459 a few hours earlier, a meltdown occurred.

With the score tied at 2, right-hander Octavio Dotel replaced Chris Carpenter to start the eighth and Michael Young doubled. Adrian Beltre struck out and Nelson Cruz was intentionally walked.

La Russa said he had told Lilliquist to have the left-hander Marc Rzepczynski and Motte warm up, but Lilliquist only heard "Rzepczynski." La Russa now thinks Lilliquist may have hung up after hearing the first name.

Going by the numbers (lefties hit .163 off Rzepczynski during the regular season, righties .275), La Russa brought in Rzepczynski to face lefty David Murphy.

Murphy hit a comebacker that could have become an inning-ending double play but deflected off the reliever's bare hand for an infield single. Then La Russa noticed Motte was not warming up, and he called the bullpen again. But Lilliquist said he thought he heard "Lynn," for right-hander Lance Lynn, who was supposed to be resting after throwing 47 pitches in Game 3.

With Motte (.162 vs. righties and .270 vs. lefties) still not warming up, La Russa left Rzepczynski in to face Napoli, who sent a slider into the right-center gap for a two-run double.

"I said, man, this is stuff that I hope happens on a Wednesday game on the road someplace that nobody is there. Then of course it wouldn't have happened that way," La Russa recalled.

Tony La Russa takes blame for St. Louis Cardinals' World Series bullpen phone follies 10/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 5:14pm]
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