Arriving at the ballpark, expecting to have another dreary discussion following the Cards' third consecutive August loss, Tony La Russa's lineup card changed everything. Posted as always by bench coach Joe Pettini on the opposite door from the previous night (likely for superstitious reasons), St. Louis' Saturday lineup was listed as follows:
You read it right. La Russa brightened up the day by returning to an approach he last used in 1998 for 76 games – having his pitcher hit eighth.
That season, the tactic was deployed between the dates of July 9 and September 27, starting the second half of that 1998 campaign. Nine years later, it is viewed by the manager as a positive factor in that team improving from a minus six games to a plus four mark at season's end.
At its heart, the approach is characterized by a second leadoff man in the number nine spot and having the pitcher as the number eight man. This makes the number three hitter, Albert Pujols, look like a second cleanup hitter in subsequent trips through the line-up. This is a view the manager is familiar with from his days in the American League, where the designated hitter is deployed.
While pitching coach Dave Duncan was characterized by La Russa as believing the #1 factor in the Cardinals getting back into the race is establishing a consistent starting rotation, La Russa thinks gaining offensive consistency is equally important.
After taking two tough losses in a row Thursday and Friday, due as much as anything to lack of timely hitting, La Russa moved up his date to carry out the lineup change to Saturday.
He made it clear, however, that he neither considers this a move of desperation nor a potential distraction. A team meeting was held Saturday afternoon to explain the change, with new number nine hitter and second baseman Adam Kennedy having been the first player told.
The last MLB player to hit above ninth was Dontrelle Willis, who batted seventh twice and eighth twice for the 2005 Florida Marlins. Tomo Ohka, who was released from his Memphis contract last month, was the last Expos/Nationals pitcher to hit eighth, on August 30, 2004. Prior to 1998, the last NL pitcher to bat eighth was Philadelphia's Steve Carlton on June 1, 1979.
In the following audio clip, La Russa explains how long he has been considering the move, seeking counsel from long-time coaches Red Schoendienst and George Kissell, what he said to his team and much more.
The skipper also discusses Albert Pujols' elbow soreness and Joel Pineiro's upcoming first start in a Cardinals uniform. (Sorry, Scout.com audio is subscriber-only, but what better time than now to take advantage of our seven-day free trial?)
Other media sources may feed you sound bytes, but here at stlcardinals.scout.com, we have the complete story in the skipper's own words, straight from Washington's RFK Stadium on Saturday afternoon!
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