Cheap Seats

What's in a loss?

Spring training wins and losses typically mean a little bit less than

nothing.



But it gets your attention to see the Cardinals lose four of their

first five games when you consider the fact that the team has finished

Grapefruit league play under .500 only twice in the Tony La Russa era.

Those losing springs happened in 1998 when the Birds were 12-16-1

and in 2003 when they were 12-15-2. Overall, La Russa was 226-175 in

spring games with the Cardinals from his first season in St. Louis in

1996 until the beginning of play in 2010.



Obviously, wins and losses can't mean too much when the Cardinals'

response to a three-run rally in the top of the ninth Monday that gave

them a one-run lead was to send Evan MacLane to the hill charged with

the task of nailing down the save. MacLane, who was pounded in the

Cardinals spring opener, has just about no chance to make the major

league club. So he couldn't have been the best option from a strategic

standpoint.



The point of spring games is to get players innings in which they can

work on things -- mechanics, timing, new pitches, a different batting

stance -- not to try to win at any cost. As a courtesy, closers often pitch

early in spring games so they can get their work in and be on their way

instead of hanging out in the bullpen in case they might be needed in

the ninth.



As longtime News-Democrat sports editor Joe Ostermeier said Monday,

MacLane probably scored extra points with the management for allowing

multiple runs in the bottom of the ninth instead of just one and thereby

forcing extra innings.



But don't believe La Russa takes spring games all that lightly, either.

La Russa talked a couple of years ago at the St. Louis Baseball Writers

dinner about his first spring with the club. He said the Cardinals started

the Grapefruit schedule with a bad record, letting a couple of games get

away at the end. According to La Russa, like a latter day Ebenezer

Scrooge, he received visits from Redbirds past who told him it was the

Cardinals way to play hard all of the time -- even in exhibition games --

and try to win whenever they are on the field. First Lou Brock rapped on

La Russa's office door to tell the new manager politely how it's done when

you're a Cardinal. Then Bob Gibson cornered La Russa, standing so close

he stepped on the skipper's toes as he spoke a little less politely.



A bit shaken, La Russa said he went to kindly longtime Cardinals player,

manager and coach Red Schoendienst to ask that the Ol' Redhead tell

Brock and Gibby to take it down a couple of pegs ... "Who do you think

sent them in there?" Schoendienst asked La Russa.





Still ... the Cardinals' slow spring start this season is less of a product of

talent and effort than it is circumstance and a difference in philosophy.

During their first game of the spring, a Cardinals club with MacLane on

the hill and Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Felipe Lopez tucked safely away

back in Jupiter, faced a Mets club on the road that looked like the lineup

New York will field on opening day.



Since then, the Cardinals have been sending their regular season

starters to the hill with orders to forget about the score, the count and

the game situation. Their job is to pitch two or three innings, work on a

couple of different types of pitches and hit the showers.



The Cardinals' record will come around later in the spring when the

regulars start to stretch their legs a little bit. But let's worry more about

winning games in April than winning them in March.

  Comments