La Russa eager to end AL dominance
Skipper ready to lead NL to first victory since 1996
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jim Leyland, an old friend of Tony La Russa's and the American League manager in the All-Star Game, joked a week before the game that La Russa had likely already been working on his lineup for a week.
Except that Leyland wasn't kidding. The man who knows La Russa as well as anyone in baseball had a pretty good read. When La Russa unveiled his lineup for the Midsummer Classic on Monday morning, there were no accidents in the placement of his eight hitters.
Some of the choices were fairly obvious, most notably leading off Jose Reyes. Some were less so -- like putting Barry Bonds in the No. 2 spot in the order. La Russa has a long history of preferring dangerous hitters in the second hole, and he certainly has it this time around.
"Damage in that second spot is something that I've always thought made sense," La Russa said. "And a lot of it comes from conversations with [Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan]. Dave tells me about what he thinks creates problems for pitchers."
La Russa followed another of his favorite traits as well, breaking up his left-handed hitters. With four lefties in the starting lineup, he still managed to keep any two from hitting consecutively.
Bonds bats second, Ken Griffey Jr. fourth, Prince Fielder sixth and Chase Utley eighth. Switch-hitters Reyes and Carlos Beltran occupy the first and third spots, respectively, with right-handers David Wright and Russell Martin fifth and seventh. Leyland likely won't get too cute with his relief pitchers, but if he does, the NL team will be ready.
As for the other tactical aspects of the game, La Russa would love to be able to turn some of his speedsters loose. Four of the top-20 basestealers in the National League are in the starting lineup, including Reyes and his Majors-leading 46 thefts.
But on the other side, the AL counters with catcher Ivan Rodriguez, perhaps the greatest in history at gunning down would-be basestealers. Additionally, AL starting pitcher Dan Haren does a fine job of controlling the running game. So La Russa intends to play it by ear.
"Not only does Pudge [Rodriguez] throw well, but Dan Haren unloads to the plate as quickly as anybody," La Russa said. "You have to get on base first, and you have to have that combination of a pitcher and catcher that allow you to take the base. If we get on base, there's a base there and the guys want to push it, they will get the green light. But I would be surprised if the game is won on a stolen base."
"I like our league," La Russa said. "Our league is very good and there's no reason that we haven't won our share. ... Players choose to go out and play to make something happen or just go out there and show what they can do. There's a big difference in the two.
"I think the American League can compete, and I just hope that the National League is going to compete. ... Just like Mrs. Autry called us the lesser league, that's shouting rights. I just want our league to beat the other league so you can have shouting rights the rest of the season."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.