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MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

La Russa delivers quintessential win

Bodley: La Russa delivers quintessential win

La Russa delivers quintessential win play video for La Russa delivers quintessential win
PHILADELPHIA -- This was vintage Tony La Russa.

The Cardinals stunned the favored Phillies, 5-4, on Sunday night to even the National League Division Series after two games, and you can blame it on their legendary manager.

In the end, it was La Russa's strategy and decisions that stood out when St. Louis wobbled off the Citizens Bank Park field with a victory that may define this best-of-five tournament.

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Years ago George Will's book "Men at Work" dealt in part with the managerial wizardry of La Russa, whose 2,728 wins are tops among active managers and third on the all-time list.

La Russa, much younger then as Oakland's skipper, was described as a state-of-the-art manager. So when you watch his moves the last couple of days and realize how his decisions have fallen into place, this has to be quintessential La Russa.

Of course, that the Cards brushed off a 4-0 Phils lead and made a loser of postseason sensation Cliff Lee was the bottom line. It was just Lee's third career postseason loss in 11 appearances. He was 3-0 in October at Citizens Bank Park.

But the fact that La Russa, as he often does, made controversial decisions before the series opened and then managed Game 2 like the seventh game of a World Series seemingly has put the underdog Cardinals in excellent position to oust the Phillies.

In the eighth inning alone, when Philadelphia was trying to mount a threat, La Russa used four relief pitchers against four batters. Sunday night's game was as pivotal as one game can be in a short series.

Start with La Russa's decision to start Kyle Lohse in Game 1, bypassing lefty Jaime Garcia, who's been dynamite against the Phils.

Add to that La Russa's decision to send his No. 1 starter, Chris Carpenter, to the mound in Game 2 on just three days' rest, a first for the right-hander.

Lohse was the victim in Philadelphia's 11-6 opening win, and after Carpenter allowed four runs and five hits in just three innings, La Russa was obviously leaving himself open.

But the Phillies coughed up their early lead, and the Cardinals' bullpen was magnificent. And as the series shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 on Tuesday, it says here the Redbirds have a huge advantage.

The pieces have quickly fallen into place.

Garcia, who won 13 of 20 decisions in 2011, is 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA lifetime vs. Philadelphia. He'll start Tuesday at Busch Stadium against the Phillies' Cole Hamels. Edwin Jackson will follow against Roy Oswalt in Wednesday's Game 4. And then, if there is a Game 5 on Friday back in Philly, Carpenter will be well rested to face former Toronto teammate Roy Halladay.

Study these scenarios and it's difficult not to agree the Cardinals, thanks to La Russa's tinkering, are in the driver's seat. They must win two of the remaining three games, beginning with the first two at Busch Stadium.

And if the Phillies, with their vaunted starting rotation, fail to advance, one of the reasons will be the strategy used by St. Louis in the first two games.

Imagine what a matchup Game 5 would be on Friday in Philadelphia, Carpenter vs. Halladay. Had La Russa not gambled by starting Carpenter on Sunday, that wouldn't be possible.

"Lohse earned the right to start the first game," said La Russa. "If we hadn't had to use Carp on Wednesday, he would have pitched Saturday.

"That was a tough matchup yesterday for anybody [against Halladay], and that's part of the reason he was slotted to pitch. You just can't walk out of here, I think, and face your club and say, 'Hey, we're down two games and Chris [Carpenter] is not going to pitch until he gets extra rest at home.'

"He was ready to do it. I actually think he can do it again in his career. He was healthy and made pitches. It's just a good club over there."

As has often been the case this season for the Phillies, they jumped out to an early lead and then went to sleep.

They scored their fourth run off Carpenter with two out in the second inning. After Hunter Pence singled home that run, 15 Phillies went down in order. And then, after Jimmy Rollins singled to end that with two down in the seventh, he was caught stealing.

"We got Carpenter out of the game early, and we felt real good about ourselves," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "We were trying to get into their bullpen. The big problem was their bullpen held us."

Home-plate umpire Jerry Meals' inconsistent strike zone irritated La Russa so much he discussed it during the national telecast. Meals' ball-and-strike calls were a postgame subject in both clubhouses.

But in the end, the pieces have fallen into place, and La Russa said, "We're making it a series, which is fun and exciting, and we expect Garcia to pitch well.

"I said when I came here before the game started, I hope it comes down to Halladay and Carpenter. I mean, that would be an experience of a lifetime for any of us."

The series might well be over before that happens, but no matter, La Russa's maneuvering has made it possible.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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