Take nothing away from his managerial wizardry. But as this World Series evolves into one of the best in recent years, I believe La Russa manages differently in must-win situations than he does in non-crucial games.
Such was the case Sunday night.
The Cardinals, behind Albert Pujols' phenomenal performance, thrashed the Texas Rangers, 16-7, on Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Series.
The Rangers shook off an expected hangover from that pounding to numb the Cardinals, 4-0, on Sunday night to deadlock the Series and make sure it will return to St. Louis for at least a Game 6.
One night after scoring 16 runs, the Cardinals were blanked, with the 16-run differential matching the largest in World Series history from one game to the next. In 1936, the Yankees defeated the Giants, 18-4, in Game 2. In Game 3, the Yankees won, 2-1, the first and only other 16-run differential.
St. Louis, with ace Chris Carpenter scheduled to pitch Monday's Game 5, could have moved a victory closer to its first World Series championship since 2006 with a Sunday win.
It didn't happen.
La Russa has tried to shrug off the mystique of his decision making during this Series, insisting "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."
Had the Cardinals been in a must-win situation Sunday night, I question whether La Russa would have left struggling starter Edwin Jackson in to start the sixth inning.
The Rangers were only up 1-0, but Jackson had been walking a tightrope most of the night, battling his control. He'd already walked five batters when, with one out in the sixth, he walked Nelson Cruz and David Murphy, both on full-count pitches.
And then, La Russa summoned reliever Mitchell Boggs. Mike Napoli sent Boggs' first pitch, a high fastball, screaming to the left-field seats.
The three-run blast vaulted the Rangers to a 4-0 lead which would hold until the final out.
"I know Boggs has a good sinker," said Napoli. "In that situation, he's probably trying to get a double-play ball. I was looking for something up, and kind of had an idea they were probably going to try to pound me in, and I just got a pitch that I could handle."
"Well, it looked like it was a bad decision," La Russa admitted. "He missed with his pitch. He's a talented guy, had a good ninth inning yesterday, and he just missed [Sunday], and Napoli didn't.
"If you pitch well, you stop good hitting. I mean, we pitched pretty well and it was a 1-0 game, and we made one mistake for three runs."
Why so long with Jackson?
"I thought he pitched really well. He missed a few times, walked a couple of guys, but he kept making pitches. Overall, I give him a huge plus for keeping us in the game."
After Saturday night's offensive explosion, it would not have been a surprise had Texas starter Derek Holland been intimidated by the St. Louis bats.
Plus, after Rangers manager Ron Washington used five relievers trying to stop Pujols & Co., the consensus was his bullpen was spent and the Rangers would be in a jam.
Holland kept that from happening -- he pitched 8 1/3 innings -- and, I suspect, altered La Russa's decision making.
The left-hander became only the 18th pitcher in World Series history to pitch at least eight shutout innings and allow just two hits. Lance Berkman doubled in the second and singled in the fifth, but was quickly wiped out by a double play.
With Carpenter pitching against C.J. Wilson in Game 5, the Cardinals face another important step in this Series. It will be a rematch of the pitching matchup of Game 1, which Carpenter won and Wilson lost.
The Cardinals do not want to return to Busch Stadium for Game 6 on Wednesday trailing the Series, 3-2.
And they certainly don't want to face a Game 7 with the thus-far ineffective Kyle Lohse the scheduled starter.
The last time the World Series went seven games was in 2002, when the Angels defeated the Giants. Since then, there have been just two six-game Series -- 2003 (Marlins-Yankees) and 2009 (Yankees-Phillies).
Game 5 will be Carpenter's final start of 2011.
"If you want to choose somebody from the St. Louis Cardinals to pitch that game, it's Chris," said La Russa. ""I mean, there isn't anything [to Carpenter] about pitching on the road in a hostile environment. I think he actually likes it, pitches better.
"His problem is going to be good hitters, and he'll have to pitch effectively. But we love playing behind him, because we know he's going to compete as hard as he can."
And it will be interesting to see if La Russa pushes the buttons differently in what has to be the most important game of the year for St. Louis.
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.