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Cards' skipper La Russa takes blame for Game 5 gaffes

By Larry Fine

ST LOUIS (Reuters) - One day later, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was still trying to explain the unraveling of the Cardinals in Monday's Game Five loss that left them on the brink of elimination in the World Series.

La Russa took the blame for the bullpen follies that twice led to the wrong reliever pitching in the critical eighth inning, and admitted that Albert Pujols signaled for an ill-fated, seventh-inning hit-and-run on his own.

But his rambling answers at Tuesday's off-day inquisition did little to clear up the baffling course of events.

"What was going on, and to the extent that what I wanted to have happen wasn't happening, didn't happen, yeah, that's my fault," La Russa, who has amassed the third-most victories ever by a major league manager. "I don't need to dodge that, ever."

Asked why he did not explain the blown hit-and-run after the game, La Russa said: "I treat the club like a family. I don't throw the family under the bus, my personal family. I don't throw this family under the bus. I'd rather take the hit."

A frustrating night in which the Cardinals left 12 men on base and blew opportunities to add to a first-inning 2-0 lead, had a bizarre finish.

Allen Craig was twice thrown out stealing with St. Louis slugger Pujols at bat, and La Russa tried twice in vain to get reliever Jason Motte ready to pitch in a critical spot.

In the end, left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, instead of righty Motte, faced right-handed hitting Mike Napoli with the bases loaded in the eighth and gave up a two-run double that snapped a 2-2 tie and gave Texas a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven.

La Russa took responsibility for the gaffe that had the wrong reliever warm up twice in the crucial eighth. The manager said Monday that the crowd noise in Texas led to confusion over which pitcher he wanted in his phone call to the bullpen.

"We don't repeat it," La Russa told reporters at Busch Stadium Tuesday about safeguarding against confused bullpen orders. "It's like shadows (on the field). It's one of the things you deal with when you're playing the games.

"I thought yesterday the first mention of Motte was probably after he (bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist) had hung up. Maybe I didn't say it quickly enough."

AFFECTED OUTCOME

Once La Russa realized his first order was not accurately received, he called again to get Motte warmed up. "The second one, I said 'Motte', he heard 'Lynn,'" La Russa said. "There's only one way to explain that. You can't hear clearly."

"It's my fault for not handling it better and making sure. All I had to do was look in the bullpen, repeat to make sure."

Asked if he thought the gaffe cost the team the game, La Russa said: "I think it directly affected it.

"When there's stuff that went on in that inning with the bullpen, and who's up and who's not, that's miscommunication. In the end that comes totally on the coach, or the manager."

La Russa said a hit-and-run with Craig on first in the seventh inning was called by Pujols himself, who is empowered by the manager to call that play on his own.

"When you have a player that really understands the game, that player gets a lot of leeway and ability to be involved, based on how he's reading what's going on," the manager said.

"Albert has the ability on this club for several years to put a hit-and-run on."

In this case, La Russa said he thought Pujols made a bad choice. "He picked a 1-0 pitch, (Alexi) Ogando threw it out of the strike zone, and it didn't work," he said.

The pitch was way high and away and Pujols could not reach it. Craig was easily thrown out at second base.

La Russa said he put Craig in motion in the ninth inning to stay out of a possible double play.

"Give them credit. They threw that very nasty fastball," he said about Neftali Feliz's pitch that moved away from Pujols, who swung and missed before catcher Mike Napoli gunned out Craig at second for a strike-out/throw-out double play.

Game Six in scheduled for Wednesday in St. Louis with Texas one win from their first Fall Classic triumph since the franchise was born in 1961.

(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Steve Ginsburg)