In the quiet aftermath of a 10-1 loss to the Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field that ended a mismatch of an American League Division Series at three games to one, White Sox manager Tony La Russa wasn’t downhearted or gloomy or even morose.
No, he was angry.
We didn’t see a lot of anger from La Russa in his comeback season. We didn’t see much indignation or rancor. There were times it would’ve been reasonable to wonder if, deep into his 70s — and back in the dugout for the first time in 10 years — he still had all the fire inside him that burned throughout the heyday that led him to the Hall of Fame.
But it was something else to sit in a room with La Russa when it was all over. Ticked off enough to voice some heavy-duty accusations, he ripped into the Astros for an otherwise inconsequential moment in the eighth inning of Game 4 — when Jose Abreu was hit by a two-out, 3-2 pitch from reliever Kendall Graveman.
“It just leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and in my gut,” La Russa said. “That’s just — there’s a character shortage there that they should answer for. It is stupid, too. … I’ll be interested to see if they admit it [was intentional]. If they don’t admit it, then they’re really dishonest.”
Well, here’s the answer: The Astros are really dishonest. Unless the answer is that La Russa really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Either way, Astros manager Dusty Baker came nowhere within the ballpark of admitting anything.
“There’s no way,” he said.
Not even a little way?
“I beg to differ with Tony,” he said. “No. I mean, there was no intent, and there was no reason to do that. Zero.”
Tony La Russa is not pleased after Jose Abreu is hit by a pitch. pic.twitter.com/YBQc42ISOr— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 12, 2021
The teams aren’t even rivals, Baker contended. They have no bad blood between them, he went on.
But it isn’t hard to think of one reason why the Astros might have wanted to give the Sox such a parting gift. Everyone remembers the incendiary comments made after Game 3 by Sox reliever Ryan Tepera about the Astros and their maybe-just-maybe-still-cheating ways. Is that why they were still stealing bases to the very end of a blowout? Is that partly why Jose Altuve — who’d been hit earlier in the game and been the recipient of profane chants from the crowd — circled the bases after his three-run, ninth-inning home run with the speed of an overfed sportswriter?
Regardless, La Russa called the Astros’ “character and credibility” into question, which is sure to create tension next season between the teams and between their managers — assuming both are back.
La Russa has a multiyear contract with the Sox, but the specific length of the deal has not been revealed or confirmed by the club. How sure is he that he’ll manage in 2022?
“Well, I mean, I’m not going to talk about myself,” he began, a sure sign that he would immediately begin talking about himself.
He described the process he has relied on since he first began to feel like he had some real job security as a big-league manager. The process begins with asking ownership and the front office if they want him back.
“You don’t want to come back [just] because you got a contract,” he said. “I would just leave if they don’t want you back.
“If they say yes, then you ask the players. You know? They should choose whom they want to manage.”
We’re to believe the Sox players can essentially fire La Russa?
“If the players don’t want you,” he said, “then you walk away.”
And if, from chairman Jerry Reinsdorf on down, there’s no movement to banish La Russa into re-retirement, there will be one more step in the process.
“You check and see whether you’ve got the desire to continue to manage,” he said. “So, I do.”
Meaning he’s sure he wants to come back and do this again?
“I mean, we have more work to do,” he said.
And with that, he goes into the offseason without a new World Series story and with the jury still out on whether he’ll go down as having been the right manager for the job. The Sox’ championship window isn’t open quite as wide as it was when October began.
There was no postseason thrill ride, no roller coaster of emotion. It was more of an anticlimactic ending to a season that was somewhat stuck in that mode since the All-Star break, the Sox just kind of coasting with a huge division lead and an understandable desire to keep certain players as healthy and fresh as possible for the playoffs.
“We accomplished the first goal,” La Russa said, “but we are disappointed to get one win and not two more. So it’s bittersweet.”
Emphasis on the “bitter.” La Russa was angry when it was over. Angry enough that you just know the gears in his mind were grinding with thoughts of meeting the Astros again. And they’re always grinding with thoughts of flying a new World Series banner. If it’s all the same to the Sox, he’d like to come back and take another crack at it.