SAN FRANCISCO -- Stick with a starting pitcher too long in May, it might cost the manager a game.
Make the same wrong move in October, it could cost him a lot more: a chance to win the World Series, and maybe even his reputation.
Ask Tony La Russa. Or Art Howe. Or Bobby Cox.
La Russa made a whole bunch of moves in Game 4 of the NL championship series Sunday. Too bad for the St. Louis skipper, none of them turned out well.
Maybe he should've pulled Andy Benes sooner. He probably could've replaced reliever Rick White earlier. He shouldn't have told Tino Martinez, with one only sacrifice in the last six seasons, to bunt.
The one thing La Russa did absolutely right - intentionally walking Barry Bonds with two outs in the eighth inning - is what he'll get blamed for the most.
"Well, a lot of times strategy is judged on whether it works," La Russa said after the Cardinals lost 4-3 to San Francisco, dropping them into a 3-1 series deficit. "So it didn't work. Bad strategy."
Of course, La Russa is no stranger to second-guessing. Because for all his thinking, he's been bamboozled in the postseason before.
Hamstrung by Mark McGwire's sore knee in the 2000 playoffs, he never quite figured out how to make his injured slugger a factor. The Cardinals got wiped out by the New York Mets and La Russa, considered by many as one of baseball's best minds, paid the price.
Arizona manager Bob Brenly didn't like hearing it last year on his way to winning the World Series. Criticized for pitching Curt Schilling on three days' rest and bringing back Byung-Hyun Kim after a bad outing, Brenly overreacted.
"When I was up in the booth, I made it a point to never second guess. If you cannot point something out ahead of time, it becomes the lowest form of journalism as far as I'm concerned, to come in after the fact and say what should have happened," he said.
But face it, managerial mess-ups have always marked the postseason. Fans look forward to them, relishing the opportunity to attack dugout mismanagement.
And there's been plenty of it.
Howe mistakenly refused to reshuffle his rotation to let ace lefty Barry Zito pitch twice in the opening round against Minnesota, a team that couldn't hit lefties. See ya, Oakland.
Cox decided to keep three catchers, including seldom-used Steve Torrealba, and got caught short against San Francisco in the division series. Bye-bye, Braves.
Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia blundered, failing to bring in closer Troy Percival in a key spot in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium. The Angels lost, and the next day Scioscia was able to joke about the criticism.
By the way, a few hours later in a similar spot, Scioscia went to Percival in the eighth inning. The Angels are now in the World Series and Percival, used just four times in the eighth during the regular season, has made two early appearances in the playoffs.
That's a sign of smart managing. The good ones realize what works over 162 games may not work at all in the postseason.
The Giants' Dusty Baker has learned. Twice in the first three games against St. Louis, he had Rich Aurilia put down a sacrifice bunt in the opening inning. The same Rich Aurilia who hit 37 homers last year and has averaged four sacrifices in the past five seasons.
"You manage differently because during the season, if everytime the leadoff man got on and I had Rich Aurilia bunt, he would have 25 RBIs and no home runs and be ready to kill me," Baker said.
"In a short series, you manage as if it's the last game, and every game is so pivotal," he said.
New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, whose teams won four of the previous six World Series, often prospered because he was willing to change his approach in the postseason.
Bring in closer Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning? Why not?
"I think pitching is probably the one area where you don't think about how much rest has this guy had or when are you going to use him again because it's right now, today, and that's when we're using him," Torre said during the first round.
Stick David Cone in the bullpen and leave him there? Fine. Pull Paul O'Neill for a pinch-hitter in a clutch situation? Yep.
"Postseason is not the time that you make friends because you do certain things, you try to win ballgames. Your loyalty to the 25 players is more important than loyalty to one individual," Torre said.
Ben Walker is the baseball writer for The Associated Press. He can be reached at BWalker@ap.org
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