Tony La Russa admitted he may have erred in not giving in to the magic of the moment when he left Albert Pujols on the bench with two outs and the bases loaded in the last of the ninth inning in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
The American League held onto its 5-4 victory when Aaron Rowand flew out against Francisco Rodriguez to end the game, with Pujols — one of the best hitters of his generation — watching from the dugout.
“Upon further review, I would have sent up Pujols just for the drama of the All-Star game. It’s one of the marquee events. It would have been great theater,” said La Russa, who has witnessed all of Pujols’ marquee moments as his manager in St. Louis.
“People would have been talking about it forever. The All-Star game is a different kind of competition, a showcase competition, and you try to entertain as much as possible. I should have gone for entertainment.”
Pujols joked afterward that perhaps La Russa was saving him for the 2008 All-Star game, causing some to believe there was some distance between the two.
“People are making a big deal out of it, saying I don’t respect Tony or he disrespected me. Are you kidding?” Pujols said Wednesday.
“I’m just sorry all this crap is happening. So what if I’m one of the top three players in the game? I’m just honored to be at the game.”
Closer Bobby Jenks was the White Sox’s lone AL All-Star representative, but the entire 2004 Chicago outfield was present in Houston’s Carlos Lee, Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez and Philadelphia’s Aaron Rowand.
The timing was inopportune, since the Sox’s entire outfield for 2008 is in flux. Jermaine Dye will be a free agent after this season, Scott Podsednik may not be tendered a contract after a bumpy two years and Darin Erstad continues to have injury issues.
“We started together but we didn’t finish together,” said Ordonez, who left as a free agent after 2004, when Lee was traded in a package that brought Podsednik from Milwaukee. Rowand was traded to Philadelphia for Jim Thome in 2005.
“I guess everyone is happy now. I’m happy playing.”
Rowand said at the All-Star game he would like to return to Chicago.
The ascension of Jack Cust and the reticence of Mike Piazza to return as a catcher (he has been on the disabled list since May 2 with a sprained right shoulder) have the A’s open to moving Piazza before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Oakland signed Piazza this offseason as a DH, but Cust has become a fixture there. Cust, Nick Swisher or Dan Johnson would lose time if Piazza returned to the lineup, and there is a growing sentiment that Piazza and his $8 million contract is the odd man out.
Scouts have watched Piazza’s batting practice recently, and he could be a fit for an AL team — Minnesota, New York — that needs a bat. Anaheim also might look for offense after releasing Shea Hillenbrand, who was not claimed on waivers.
Standing next to each other for the All-Star team picture were San Diego’s Chris Young and Chicago’s Derrek Lee — the same Young and Lee who threw punches at each other (neither connected) in a recent set-to at Wrigley Field, when Lee reacted to an inside pitch.
Young and Lee apparently talked things out Monday and were back on good terms, and Young said he has been approached by fans interested in having him autograph photos of the incident.
“I don’t do it. I tell them that’s not something I want to promote,” Young said.
“That hasn’t happened to me yet, but I wouldn’t sign it either,” Lee said.
10 YEARS, STILL WAITING
Not only did Tampa Bay have the worst record in the majors at the break, 34-53, it still has 15 games remaining against Boston, 14 against the Yankees, six against the Angels, four against Detroit and three against Cleveland.
The bullpen had a 6.12 ERA and gave up 487 base runners in 266 innings (a 1.83 WHIP), and opponents were hitting .301 against it.
“In spite of the horrible streak we went through, we played a lot of close games,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I know we didn’t win them, and this is not horseshoes. But we can compete with these teams.”
Catcher Dioner Navarro, in the Valley long enough to take a physical exam after being acquired in the package for Randy Johnson in 2004 before being sent to Los Angeles in the Shawn Green deal, was hitting .177 at the break.
It is the fourth lowest average at the break among players with at least 200 at-bats in the last 50 years, ahead of only John Shelby (.157 with Los Angeles in 1989), Greg Vaughn (.163, Tampa Bay, 2002) and Dal Maxvill (.164, St. Louis, 1969).
THE LIFE OF BRIAN
Although early returns indicate San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean did not have one of the better offseasons, the Giants last week signed him to a contract extension through 2010.
The Giants overpaid for Barry Zito, have received little from free agents Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia, and are sinking toward their third consecutive sub-.500 season, but owner Peter Magowan probably understood it would be a difficult season when he re-signed Barry Bonds in order to have Bonds break Hank Aaron’s record in a Giants’ uniform.
Before the extension, rumors among scouts was that Sabean would be fired at the All-Star break, perhaps to emerge as a candidate with the Yankees — he’s a former Yankees’ scouting director — if George Steinbrenner opted to replace Brian Cashman after the season.
“We’re right where we want to be. A predator in the weeds. We can just take over any time. The second half is when we shine.”
N I C K S W I S H E R
O A K L A N D O U T F I E L D E R , W H O S E A ’ S H A V E A H I S T O R Y O F S E C O N D - H A L F S U R G E S
Born to run:
Colorado’s 1-2 hitters, Willy Taveras and Kazuo Matsui, had 36 stolen bases entering the weekend. Taveras had 20. It’s a big change from 2006, when three players led the team with 10. The Rocks have not had a player steal more than 14 in a season since Juan Pierre had 47 in 2002.
Not missing Tex
See ya: Texas was 16-11 recently without injured Mark Teixiera (quadriceps), who returned from the disabled list this weekend. The Rangers are 24-17 without him the past two years and would trade him (he will be free agent after 2008) for a package of young players. The impediment would be agent Scott Boras’ salary demands.
Tell your statistics to shut up
Numbers: A year after setting a franchise record with 52 doubles, Texas’ Michael Young has not had an extra-base hit since June 15, the day after Albert Pujols’ most recent home run. … The Angels’ Bartolo Colon is 1-4 with a 9.07 ERA in his eight starts since May 23.
Looking ahead: After finishing with Philadelphia today, St. Louis plays Florida, Atlanta, Milwaukee and the Cubs in what could be a defining stretch.