La Russa made that walk three more times Friday night in Game 5, three more mid-inning pitching changes, three more gambles on the matchups and his own gut. And once La Russa had guided his pitchers through the requisite 27 outs, the Cardinals had a convincing 7-1 victory over the Brewers at Busch Stadium, giving them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and leaving them one win away from a trip to the World Series.
Two teams who have now played each other 23 times this year — with the Cardinals winning 12, the Brewers 11 — will meet again Sunday in Milwaukee for Game 6, with the Cardinals sending Edwin Jackson to the mound to face the Brewers’ Shaun Marcum. The Brewers must win twice at home, where they are 61-25 this year, to advance to the franchise’s first World Series since 1982.
To do so, they will need to play significantly better than they did Friday, when they committed four errors — leading to three unearned runs — and consistently failed to deliver the big pitch, the big hit or the big defensive play where it was needed.
“We can win two ballgames at home,” Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke said. “We are going to have to play a lot better baseball than we have here. We can’t play games like that and beat these guys two in a row.”
Rarely in postseason play is the manager a bigger story than his players, but rarely have the pieces — a mediocre starting rotation, a lock-down bullpen and a manager who practically invented the situational reliever — been in place to make such a thing possible as they are here. And rarely has a manager such as La Russa been afforded such an opportunity to undo a previous mistake.
In the Cardinals’ Game 1 loss, La Russa had allowed the game to get away from lefty starter Jaime Garcia in rapid fashion during the pivotal fifth inning, which climaxed with Braun’s double and Fielder’s homer, both on first pitches, turning a 5-2 Cardinals lead into a 6-5 deficit. La Russa was roundly criticized for being so slow to turn to his bullpen.
“There was a lot of conversation about Game 1, and how quickly they put some runs on the board,” La Russa said.
Faced with a similarly escalating situation Friday night, La Russa moved boldly. It was the fifth inning again, and the Brewers had just scored on Corey Hart’s two-out, RBI single, pulling them to within 4-1. When Jerry Hairston followed with another single, it brought Braun to the plate as the potential tying run.