Deja one and two: Tony La Russa issues second intentional walk on 1-2 count
A walk to Oscar Gonzalez didn’t figure in the 5-2 loss to the Guardians, but it added more scrutiny to the White Sox manager’s performance.
CLEVELAND — White Sox manager Tony La Russa is sticking to his guns about issuing intentional walks with 1-2 counts.
“We’ve been through this before, the most ridiculous thing in this season has been the 1-2 walk,” La Russa said. “I mean that’s the most ridiculous. That’s what I say.”
The 1-2 walk La Russa was talking about after the Sox’ 5-2 loss to the Guardians Friday was the one he called for Trea Turner at Guaranteed Rate Field in June which preceded Max Muncy’s home run in a Dodgers victory that generated another wave of attention over La Russa’s managing this season.
La Russa vehemently defended that decision, which was questioned in baseball circles everywhere.
It only came up again Friday because La Russa ordered an intentional walk of Guardians rookie Oscar Gonzalez with runners on second and third and lefty Jake Diekman pitching, even though Diekman had the considerable pitcher’s advantage with a 1-2 count. As it turned out, Owen Miller flied out softly to right fielder Andrew Vaughn against right-handed Jimmy Lambert, so the decision didn’t factor in the Sox’ third defeat in a row.
“So it’s, put him on. So it worked, right?” La Russa said.
The first-place Guardians had already scored four runs in the inning and were on their way to stretching their lead to 3 1⁄2 games over the Sox by then.
“Did we get the guy out? Yeah, so it worked,” La Russa said.
The walk to Gonzalez followed two walks by Diekman and a double steal which essentially was executed against the pitcher, who didn’t check Josh Naylor at second before throwing home.
When asked about the intentional pass to Gonzalez, La Russa went back to Muncy.
“Anybody says, I mean, I don’t want to get into it, man. Get me upset,” La Russa said. “Ain’t a baseball man that I know would pitch to that one guy [Turner] instead of Muncy.”
On Saturday night, there were no intentional walks needed early on from Sox right-hander Johnny Cueto or Guardians righty Shane Bieber in a pitching battle that was worth the two hour, 55-minute wait to start caused by rain.
Cueto, who took a 2.78 ERA into the game, allowed two hits through six scoreless innings, and Bieber, 3.18 going in, wasn’t scored on before Jose Abreu cleared center fielder Myles Straw’s head with a double that scored Luis Robert (leadoff single) from first in the sixth.
Before the game, the intentional walk discussion resurfaced with La Russa emphasizing that his strategy for intentional walks or pitching around hitters is always about favorable matchups. In both cases with the count at 1-2, first base wasn’t open when the at-bat started. He doesn’t want to move a runner ahead, but he’s not opposed to walking with two strikes.
“No, it’s the best matchup!” La Russa said. “You try to figure out, OK, if we have to get this out what is the best matchup for us. ... That’s why, I bring it up over and over again, between now and however long, talk to 100 baseball guys, [walking] Turner, that’s not even close.”
It was just another hotly debated subject in one of the most challenging seasons of the 77-year-old Hall of Fame manager’s career. La Russa retired from managing in 2011 but came back when chairman Jerry Reinsdorf hired him before the 2021 season to take the Sox to the World Series after their rebuild produced a playoff appearance in 2020 under Rick Renteria.
The Sox won the AL Central with 93 victories in 2021 but were soundly defeated by the Astros in the ALDS. Friday’s loss, the day after a 21-5 thrashing from the Astros, dropped them to 61-59. They have been a frustrating watch for disappointed fans since Opening Day for multiple reasons.
“I just think if you’re not strong-minded and strong-hearted, then you’re in the wrong place,” La Russa said. “So, we get even [Saturday].”