If nothing else, the St. Louis manager proved he's only human.
Oh, for a moment the genius he is showed when he once again sent pinch-hitter Allen Craig to bat in the seventh inning, and for the second straight night, Craig delivered a run-producing hit.
Déjà vu -- similar script, different ending.
Craig's hit gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead over the Rangers and all the makings of a 2-0 lead in the 107th World Series that shifts to Texas for Game 3 on Saturday night at 8:05 ET.
But the Rangers, with the best offense in the American League, crossed up La Russa's strategy in the ninth, scratched for two runs and jetted out of town with a 2-1 victory.
Now, this best-of-seven tournament is dead even after two games and has all the makings of a dandy Fall Classic.
The Rangers became just the third team in World Series history to rally from a 1-0 deficit in the ninth inning or after and win. The old Philadelphia Athletics did it in 1911, and the Kansas City Royals did it in '85 -- against Whitey Herzog's St. Louis Cardinals.
It took a bloop leadoff single by Ian Kinsler, just out of the reach of shortstop Rafael Furcal, to get the rally started. Add to that aggressive baserunning by Kinsler -- he stole second -- and the St. Louis nightmare was under way.
From that moment on, the wheels came off this usually efficient Cardinals machine. Elvis Andrus was at the plate, presumably to bunt, but Kinsler got a great lead and stole second, just beating catcher Yadier Molina's throw on a close play.
From that moment on, the Rangers flashed the brand of baseball that has made them AL champions two years in a row. Andrus singled to center and moved to second on an error charged to Albert Pujols for the missed catch on the cutoff throw from Jon Jay, giving the Rangers runners on second and third and nobody out.
La Russa pushed a button.
|10/20/11||Jason Motte||TEX||2||2||L, 2-1|
|10/26/06||Adam Wainwright||DET||1||0||W, 5-4|
|10/26/85||Todd Worrell||KC||3||2||L, 2-1|
|10/16/82||Jim Kaat||MIL||1||1||L, 7-5|
|10/7/68||Joe Hoerner||DET||3||2||L, 5-3|
|10/15/46||Harry Brecheen||BOS||3||0||W, 4-3|
|10/4/42||Harry Gumbert||NYY||1||1||W, 9-6|
Instead of letting closer Jason Motte face Josh Hamilton, he called on veteran lefty Arthur Rhodes. Hamilton lifted Rhodes' first pitch to Skip Schumaker in right field, as Kinsler easily scored on the sacrifice fly.
"It was up a little bit," Rhodes said of the pitch Hamilton hit. "If I had gotten it down, it probably would have been a ground ball."
Said Hamilton: "I was actually sitting first-pitch slider and just reacted. And that's the good thing sometimes, just reacting instead of trying to make it happen."
La Russa pushed another button. He replaced Rhodes with Lance Lynn, who gave up a sacrifice fly to Michael Young as Andrus trotted home to make it 2-1.
The manager has been brilliant at using the Cardinals' bullpen during this postseason, but it says here Motte should have been left in to pitch to Hamilton and intentionally walk him to load the bases.
La Russa said he didn't consider that.
"No, not really," he said. "You know, load the bases, that's a really difficult thing to do. We had a chance to do something with Hamilton with Rhodes -- maybe they score a run, but they don't advance the other guy [Andrus]. I don't think walking [Hamilton] there would have made it easier for us. It would have made it tougher."
Said Motte: "I saw Arthur warming up, and I knew Hamilton was coming up, so I knew I was out of there. It's just one of those things. Tony's the boss, he makes the moves. I didn't do my job tonight. My job was to go out there and get guys out, make my pitches. I made a good pitch on the first guy, and the next one. I didn't do my job. It's one of those nights."
Was the loss devastating?
"Oh, no," said Rhodes. "This team's not going to be crushed. This team will come back on Saturday, keep our heads up and go out there and get them."
Before the game, La Russa was asked if he's amused about the fact he seems to always push the right button and all the praise he's gotten from the media on the subject.
"No, I'm not affected by it, because the same compliment can be a criticism the next day," La Russa said. "It mostly comes down to you making a move; if it works, 'Hey, what a good move.' If it doesn't work, 'What was he thinking? He should have done something else.' That's just the name of the game."
Somebody even asked Rangers manager Ron Washington if he can win a chess game with La Russa.
"I don't think I can win a chess game against Tony," Washington said. "But you know, the best I can do is try to put my players in a position to be successful and hope that they execute."
Pausing, he added: "I think the chess matches take care of themselves."
And that's exactly the way it evolved Thursday night at Busch Stadium. This World Series is in full bloom, and it should be a good one no matter which buttons are pushed.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com; he's covering his 47th World Series. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.