Two of the great tacticians in baseball were at it tonight on Sunday Night Baseball. The Cardinals started the top of the ninth with a 4-2 lead. They got their first two runners on base against Cubs reliever Angel Guzman. This is where things got interesting.
La Russa sent up left-handed pinch-hitter Chris Duncan and Piniella countered with left-handed pitcher Sean Marshall. La Russa immediately replaced Duncan with Nick Stavinoha, who proceeded to walk. With right-handed hitting Brendan Ryan up to bat and two lefties up next, Piniella was in a tough situation. Marshall is the only lefty in his bullpen, and he did not want to remove him from the game. He moved Marshall to left field, replacing Alfonso Soriano, and brought in Aaron Heilman to strike out Ryan.
He then brought Marshall back in to pitch and inserted Reed Johnson into left field. La Russa conferred with the umpire to ensure that Marshall would have to pitch to at least one batter. MLB rules stipulate that a pitcher has to face at least one batter once he comes into the game. However, Marshall had already faced a batter in the inning, and announcer Joe Morgan even said that he had no idea what the rule was.
La Russa pinch-hit Jarrett Hoffpauir for Skip Schumaker, who proceeded to strike out. This brought up Colby Rasmus, who owned a .186 average against left-handed pitching. He laced one into left-field. Johnson tracked it down but stumbled on the way, but managed to make an incredible diving catch from what was basically a prone position on the field. I am still not 100% convinced that he caught it, and neither is Joe Morgan.
Through Piniella’s brilliant managing, the Cubs were able to get out of a bases loaded, no out jam, giving the Cubs a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth. Amazing game.
*UPDATE*: Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin struck out the side looking in the ninth. Cardinals win.