At least Tony La Russa didn't wait for his pitcher to get ahead two strikes this time.
La Russa, the Hall of Fame manager of the Chicago White Sox, made heads itchy about a month ago when his team controversially issued an intentional walk against Los Angeles Dodgers star Trea Turner. With his team trailing by two runs with two outs, a runner aboard and first base open after left-hander Bennett Sousa got ahead 1-2 in the count, La Russa signaled for the intentional walk. It was just a strange move with the odds overwhelmingly in the White Sox’s favor because of a 1-2 count. The heck with that, La Russa said. The next batter, Max Muncy, took Sousa deep for a three-run home run, and the Dodgers eventually won 11-9.
La Russa doubled down when asked about it later by the media. He said he didn't even understand why his decision was being questioned and — no matter that he was giving away a huge advantage with two strikes (among other favorable situational odds) — he'd do it again if given another chance.
As promised, La Russa did it again Tuesday — pretty much.
With José Ramírez at the plate, the White Sox trailing by four runs and Cleveland threatening with a runner on second base, right-hander Davis Martin got ahead 0-1. It was a lucky pitch, too, a changeup down the middle that Ramírez fouled back and should have instead crushed.
Ramírez, a fringe candidate for American League MVP and perennially one of the toughest outs in the league (not to mention a guy who kills the White Sox on the regular), already had a two-run single. Walking him intentionally, given who came next in the Guardians lineup, would have made sense. The Sox apparently missed their window, however, and were going after Ramírez. That would have been an OK tactic too, given that it wasn't the late innings — but it doesn’t matter. Because wait. Hold that thought.
After his pitcher got ahead of the batter again, La Russa called for an automatic walk. Rather than getting a message to Martin to just be careful with Ramírez and to try and use the 0-1 count to his advantage, La Russa just threw in the towel and put the batter on. The belated move perplexed Sox broadcasters Jason Benetti and Steve Stone.
This time, the move didn't backfire on the White Sox, in that Cleveland didn't score more runs in the inning. But still: everyone saw. And it looked bad. It looked like the White Sox, with their 77-year-old manager, were a step slow. And that's about how they've played all season, having been under .500 for most of the season.
La Russa is in the Hall of Fame (they can't take his induction away, can they?), but he's in Cooperstown because of his past accomplishments, which don't really help you in the present. What happened with Trea Turner and José Ramírez — and these are just two lookalike examples — show someone who is embarrassingly out of touch with a legend who is lost to time.
No matter how much the Sox underachieve, and no matter how many missteps the manager has made, it hasn’t seemed like ownership was going to make a change with La Russa. But these mistakes with Turner and Ramírez are just too brazen. Analysts at the White Sox’s own TV channel, including Ozzie Guillen, are calling for something to be done before it becomes too late for the team to contend.