Tony La Russa after White Sox’ poor start: ‘We’ll see if I still know how to do it or not’

“You take the heat and if that bothers you, you do something else for a living,” La Russa says.

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White Sox manager Tony La Russa says he always holds himself accountable for the team’s performance. “You take the heat, and if that bothers you, you do something else for a living.”

White Sox manager Tony La Russa says he always holds himself accountable for the team’s performance. “You take the heat, and if that bothers you, you do something else for a living.”

Chris O’Meara/AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tony La Russa recounted Sunday how being in baseball but out of uniform drove him crazy. But then White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf brought him back into uniform.

“I don’t know how general managers do it,” La Russa said before the White Sox held on to defeat the Rays 6-5 on Sunday for their second win in a row.

In the second season of his second go-around managing the Sox, La Russa finds himself at the helm of a team billed as a World Series contender stuck in third place in its division during the first week of June. All eyes are on him, from the organization to the fans to a baseball world intrigued by his unexpected hire before last season.

“We’ll see if I still know how to do it or not,” La Russa said Sunday.

The Sox (25-27) have been slammed by injuries, but they have not played good baseball with the healthy players they have. When that happens, the manager will be scrutinized, Hall of Fame résumé or not.

La Russa was asked if he evaluates himself.

“Sure. That’s part of the bottom line, isn’t it?” he said. “That’s what you show the people you work for and the fans. And that’s why I mentioned there has never been a day where I dodge accountability. Never. You take the heat, and if that bothers you, you do something else for a living. But I know if you’re going to accept accountability then you hold yourself accountable and [players] accountable.”

La Russa has maintained the Sox are good enough to win with what they have. But there’s no getting around the reality of dealing with seasonlong injury issues.

“I’ve always felt and I’ve seen this, sometimes ownership, front office [is] not realistic with expectations for the guys downstairs, right?” La Russa said. “But you have to be realistic. Pressure’s got to be fair. If you’re missing some key pieces then you have to expect it to be a struggle. If you don’t give in to it, come out of it, you have to survive, and all of a sudden then you still have a shot, right?

“It’s not fun but it’s the challenge of all this. Keep pushing. Because you always have a shot.”

In the midst of a rugged nine-game stretch against the Blue Jays, Rays and Dodgers, the Sox got swept by the Jays and lost to the Rays on Friday. Then they won two one-run games.

At 77, La Russa still hates to lose and loves to win.

“I’m as nervous [as ever],” he said.

“It’s exactly how I felt for years. I don’t look down at the [World Series] ring and say ‘What’s the big deal?’ No, that’s when I know I’m excited to be there.”

La Russa, who has three rings, got nervous when the Sox watched a 6-0 lead in the second inning turn into 6-5 against Lucas Giolito in a four-run sixth.

Three of the four runs were unearned because Yasmani Grandal, a catcher playing first base, dropped a throw from shortstop Danny Mendick. The fourth and fifth runs came on a homer by Mike Zunino, a .148 hitter.

Jake Burger doubled in two runs and Grandal singled in two on a check swing in the Sox’ four-run first against lefty Ryan Yarbrough. Andrew Vaughn, who has three straight multihit games, doubled in each of the first two innings, driving in a run in the second and scoring on Luis Robert’s single.

Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman (three strikeouts) and Liam Hendriks (16th save) faced the minimum in the final three innings. All three pitched on consecutive days.

“Huge wins for us, big momentum builders on a road trip that did not start well,” Giolito said. “It was important to find our groove and win this series.”

“You see our record,” La Russa said. “But we’ve got guts, we like to compete and we’re tough as nails.”

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