ST. LOUIS -- Nobody hates losing more than Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. Surely some others hate it as much, but they can't be any more than, to use the skipper's own expression, "tied for first" with La Russa himself.
The stories are well-known: friends know that if they have a dinner appointment with La Russa, they shouldn't assume he'll show up if his team is defeated. Many fans have seen his postgame news conferences, where La Russa can and does snap at reporters who ask questions that don't please him.
And then you get a game like Friday's.
The Cardinals won a thriller over the rival Cubs, 3-2, in walk-off fashion. Two slumping players -- Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa -- had the two biggest hits of the game, starter John Smoltz recovered from a tough beginning to battle through six quality innings and closer Ryan Franklin continued his return to form with a solid ninth inning. There was nothing not to like. And so, for once, the skipper smiled. If only a bit.
After taking questions from reporters regarding the night's events, he turned to a youngster who was in the press conference room and asked if the boy had a question. The boy's family won a Cardinals Care auction in January that allowed them to join a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter for a day at the ballpark. Not only did they get to take in a game, they got to participate in the postgame ritual.
The young fellow asked La Russa if he had faith that right-hander Adam Wainwright could get to 20 wins. And La Russa, enjoying a victory, answered:
"Only you could ask that question and me not get upset," he said to laughter from the assembled media. "We don't look forward. He's on 18, got to win 19. It's a team game.
"But you don't want that. You know what I have faith in? I have faith that he has three more starts and he's going to pitch really well. Just like he did against Florida the other day, except the other guy pitched well against us. You don't know. But he's had a great year and I think he'll have a great finish."
Even to a kid, even after a win, La Russa wouldn't go out on a limb -- especially when it related to an individual accomplishment. But he did allow himself to have a little fun before heading back to his office to begin thinking about Saturday's game.
"It's fun to win," he said almost to himself as he walked off.