MINNEAPOLIS — Tony La Russa kept the conversation going Wednesday about Yermin Mercedes swinging on a 3-0 count and launching a 429-foot homer against a position player in a blowout game two days ago, saying he was surprised there’s so much talk about it and expressing no concern that calling out the rookie sensation is an issue in his clubhouse.
“I’d be willing to bet there isn’t anybody in that clubhouse that’s upset that I mentioned that’s not the way we compete,” La Russa said before the Sox played the Twins on Wednesday afternoon. “I walked around the clubhouse last night, and nobody was giving me the Heisman.”
But players had been supporting Mercedes through social-media platforms, including Tim Anderson tweeting, “The game wasn’t over! Keep doing you, big daddy.”
One player declined to discuss La Russa’s comments with the Sun-Times but said, “I will say this: We all have each other’s backs. Everyone who wears our jersey is family.”
And after pitching eight innings of one-run ball to carry the Sox to a 2-1 victory that raised their record to an American League-best 26-16, right-hander Lucas Giolito emphasized that the team is close-knit and supportive of each other, sometimes in a “tough love” kind of way.
“No negativity,” Giolito said. “We all support Yermin. We love home runs here. That’s it. We’re going to move on.”
While Sox players as a whole probably don’t agree with La Russa’s old-school view of taking 3-0 pitches with big leads, they moved on from blowing a 4-0 lead and losing 5-4 the night before, when Twins righty Tyler Duffey threw behind Mercedes and was ejected along with manager Rocco Baldelli, who apparently took issue — as La Russa did — for swinging on 3-0.
Veteran pitcher Lance Lynn also backed Mercedes, saying unwritten rules are off when a position player is pitching.
“The way I see it is for position players on the mound, there are no rules,” Lynn said. “Let’s get the game over with. And if you have a problem with whatever happens, then put a pitcher out there. Can’t get mad when there’s a position player on the field and a guy takes a swing.”
La Russa didn’t see it that way during his Zoom conference with reporters before the game Wednesday.
“Lance has a locker. I have an office,” La Russa said. “I don’t agree.”
It’s a sportsmanship issue for La Russa, who was trending on Twitter but said he wasn’t aware of the widespread reaction he was getting, most of it objecting to his stance. La Russa apologized to the Twins, called out Mercedes publicly for missing a sign and stood by his belief that teams should call off the dogs when leading big late in games.
It’s an old-school take that is being hotly debated in a newer age of baseball.
“I’m really surprised that I’m getting so many questions on this,” La Russa said. “Evidently, there is some chatter about it. I’m not going to say it’s much ado about nothing. It’s much ado about a little bit. He [Mercedes] missed a sign.”
Mercedes batted fourth again Wednesday with Jose Abreu out and went 0-for-4, dropping his average to .350. He didn’t apologize Tuesday, saying he would continue to “be Yermin.” La Russa had no issue with that.
“If you ask him right now, he’s not going to tell you if the coach gives the take sign he’s going to decide to hit on his own,” La Russa said. “What he said was he has a flair when he plays.”
By the end of the day, and after the victory, La Russa had reached his limit for the line of questioning.
“I think I already said that I talked to him the day it happened,” he said when asked about Mercedes in his postgame Zoom conference. “Why are you bringing that up? You think it’s an issue? You think the club didn’t play today? Like they’re divided?
“Now why would you say that? Because you’re not paying attention or you didn’t like my answer. I guess I’ll be more careful with my answers.”