There was one other revelatory moment from Tuesday’s news conference, when La Russa acknowledged misleading the media the night before in order to protect slugger Albert Pujols. On Monday night, after Pujols had twice been at the plate for botched hit-and-run plays that got Allen Craig thrown out at second each time, La Russa said the plays were “just a mix-up,” and described the logic behind them. Only later did Pujols acknowledge he had called the first of those hit-and-runs, in the seventh inning, on his own, by stepping out of the batter’s box and flashing a sign to Craig.
Pressed about Pujols’s admission, La Russa fell back on the notion of protecting the family. “I don’t throw this family under the bus,” he said. “So I’d rather take the hit. It’s not a lie — there was a mix-up. . . . I wouldn’t really answer differently [given a second chance], because I support the players.”
However, in the face of the Pujols revelation, and La Russa’s acknowledgement of his willingness to protect a member of the “family” from criticism, it is fair to wonder whether La Russa is also protecting somebody in what is now being called “Bullpen-gate.” People close to him say it would be like him to do so, and would help explain some inconsistencies.
Perhaps it was significant, and perhaps not, that La Russa gave two ever-so-slightly different answers Monday night and Tuesday afternoon when asked who had made the calls from the dugout, himself or longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan.
“I did,” he said Monday night.
“I think I called,” he said Tuesday.
Is it possible Duncan made one or both of the fateful calls to the bullpen, and forgot to mention Motte the first time, and/or mixed up Lynn for Motte the second time? Is it also possible a low-paid underling in the bullpen, such as one of the bullpen catchers, answered the phone and got the message wrong?
Barring video evidence of either conversation, it certainly seems plausible. But if either scenario is true, it is unlikely anyone will ever know. In this family, those are secrets Tony La Russa will take to his grave.