Tony LaRussa on Cardinals Improbable Wild Card Berth: “A lot goes into this season, that’s why the emotion was really overflowing yesterday.”September 29, 2011 – 11:00 am by Michael Bean
What a night for Major League Baseball. Not one, but two races came down to the final day. And both were almost equally as improbable. The American League Wild Card race unsurprisingly got more publicity, but in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals have punched their ticket to October by overcoming a 10.5 game deficit from the Atlanta Braves in just over a month to win the Wild Card and return to the playoffs after missing out on the postseason party a year ago. Manager Tony LaRussa couldn’t be more proud of the resiliency of his team, who many people, myself included, had counted out when the calendar turned to September.
LaRussa joined 95.7 The Game in San Francisco to talk about where his team’s remarkable comeback to win the Wild Card ranks in the career accomplishment list, the unique scene of his players watching the final outs of the Atlanta game after easily winning their game last night, the dominant pitching performance of Chris Carpenter during the shutout win, if it’s extra special to have made the playoffs improbably because of the uncertain future of Albert Pujols with the team beyond this year, and how happy he and his team were that pitching coach Dave Duncan was able to make it back from his wife’s side to rejoin the team for the final game of the season.
Where his team’s run to the Wild Card ranks as far as career accomplishments:
“Well I think you’re real excited about the most recent one. Anytime you get in it’s real special and everyone’s great, but yeah, to come from that far behind and win it like we did says a lot about the characters we have, not just the talent.”
On the unique scene of his players in the clubhouse watching the television to see how the Braves-Phillies game ended:
“Yeah, interesting because when we went into it, we thought we had caught a break because we were an hour behind, so we figured that by if any means the Phillies could beat the Braves, then that means you know it’s in your hands. So the minute that last out you get that last out, you can celebrate being in. But because Carpenter was so great, he was so efficient and they went extra innings, we had that unique thing where we were in the clubhouse. It was a hell of a scene. In fact, I’ve got a good friend Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks, and he visited the last few days, and he’s sitting in the clubhouse and he and Keith Grant who’s in the organization, they say it’s one of the most exciting things we’ve ever been around. I say ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, you just won the NBA.’ But just that scene…I think what they mean is every time the Braves did something good they’d groan, every time the Phillies did something, they’d get excited. It was really a once in a life time thing, so it added a lot to the celebration.”
On just how sharp Chris Carpenter was in the complete game win:
“Well he’s done it so many times for us. You ought to check his record out in playoffs and big games like that. He’s been a real horse. We were particularly proud of Chris because when we were going real well the first half of the year, he couldn’t catch a break and was like 1-7. But he just kept pitching, never deterred, and came back with an outstanding record, a winning record and got his ERA where it’s supposed to be. So he’s a good example of how our club persevered.”
If it’s extra special to do it this year because of the uncertainty of Albert Pujols’ situation in St. Louis:
“I mean, it would have been special even if he had just signed a 10-year contract just because of the way it went. He’s just such a great person and great player that he says in spring training the first day, ask me anything you want to, but after the first day I’m not negotiating, I’m not discussing it, I will not distract from the team. And he held true to his word. And he hit .350 in the month of September when we made our surge, so this was great for everyone to see.”
On the issues that Dave Duncan’s had to deal with during this run with his wife’s health:
“Well we asked him please…all of the guys wanted him to be with us for the last day of the season. We asked him that like two or three weeks ago. He’s been by Jeanine’s side and personally what you go through with anybody with health makes the priorities right. We just play this game for a living. But having Dave back was very special, and he is the best I’ve ever been around doing his job and he’s a great friend. So a lot goes into this season, that’s why the emotion was really overflowing yesterday with this baseball team and coaches.”