Chess Match: Torre employs quick hook

Chess Match: Torre's quick hook

LOS ANGELES -- As intriguing a matchup as the Dodgers-Cardinals National League Division Series may be on the field, it's also a matchup of two of the game's greatest thinkers. To be inside the heads of managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre during the first time the two had ever met in postseason play would certainly be worth the price of admission.

As it was, tactical decisions -- some for better, others for worse -- made by each manager loomed large in pushing the Dodgers to a 5-3 win over the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLDS on Wednesday. There was no shortage of strategy employed and risk taken, as both skippers are well aware of how critical it is to get the first game in a brief best-of-five series.

An early hook
The situation:
With the Dodgers leading 3-2, St. Louis threatens with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth against lefty starter Randy Wolf. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick is coming to bat.


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The decision: Rather than stay with Wolf, who has already walked five (two intentionally) and given up six hits in 3 2/3 innings, Torre takes the ball and calls on Jeff Weaver to get the third out.

The outcome: Weaver preserves the lead by making a nice defensive play on Ludwick's short chopper and throwing him out at first.

The analysis: Torre's decision to have the right-handed Weaver face Ludwick rather than Wolf doesn't necessarily create a better matchup for the Dodgers, since Ludwick has nearly identical batting-average splits against righties and lefties all season. And actually, of Ludwick's 22 home runs this year, 20 were against right-handers.

Though Torre's pitching change may not seem to help his chances at retiring Ludwick on paper, Torre has been around long enough to know that when your starter isn't sharp in October, you don't let him stay in long enough to lose the game. Wolf had already thrown 82 pitches -- just 46 for strikes -- and had already given up an RBI single to Ludwick in the first. It was time for him to call it a night.

"I know you usually have the starter decide his own fate, but Don Zimmer taught me that this postseason stuff is all about not being patient and doing what you feel you need to do at the time you need to do it." -- Torre

Stop sign
The situation:
Andre Ethier stands on first with two outs and Manny Ramirez at the plate in the fourth. Ramirez doubles down the left-field line.


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The decision: Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa holds Ethier up at third rather than sending him home to try to extend a 3-2 lead.

The outcome: Matt Holliday tracks down Ramirez's hit, but his throw to cutoff man Brendan Ryan is bobbled briefly in short left field. Having already slowed to a near-stop, Ethier stays on third and ends the inning still standing there.

The analysis: When it comes to sending runners, Bowa's cardinal rule is that if the outfielder has the ball before the runner gets to third, the stop sign comes out. However, his decision to hold Ethier likely costs the Dodgers a run. A play at the plate is going to be close, but Ethier does have some speed and the Cardinals are going to need two perfect throws to gun him down.

Still, it's tough to argue against Bowa's decision. Had Ethier been thrown out at the plate in a one-run game, it would have ended the inning and taken the bat out of James Loney's hands with two runners in scoring position. As it was, Loney walked and Casey Blake ended the threat with a flyout. Also, it's hard to ultimately second-guess a decision that didn't end up costing the Dodgers a win even though those were two of 16 runners they left on base.

"I got a guy who just took a pitch off his toe, it's killing him. The only reason he dropped the ball is he saw me hold [Ethier] up." -- Bowa

Stick with the ace
The situation:
Outfielder Colby Rasmus has just doubled with two outs in the fifth, which brings Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter to the plate. The Dodgers have a 3-2 lead.


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The decision: Instead of pinch-hitting for Carpenter, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa opts to let his struggling starter hit for himself.

The outcome: Carpenter goes down swinging for the second time, which leaves the potential tying run stranded on second.

The analysis: Had Carpenter been the dominant pitcher that LaRussa has watched all season, it would have been a no-brainer to leave him in, not for what he was going to do with the bat, but for what he would bring from the mound. However, Carpenter had not been sharp from the get-go, having already thrown 78 pitches and allowed as many runs (three) as he had in his past 32 innings pitched against the Dodgers.

Los Angeles had Weaver on the mound and didn't have a lefty warming up in the bullpen as an option if LaRussa wanted to create a favorable matchup for his club. LaRussa had left-handed hitter Rick Ankiel, who was 6-for-22 as a pinch-hitter this year, available on the bench, but left him there.

As it would play out, Carpenter lasts just one additional inning for St. Louis and gives up another run before departing. Giving the Cardinals the chance to tie the game in the fifth would have been a risk worth taking in a game where the Dodgers were obviously clicking offensively.

"I thought we still had four innings of outs, and Carpenter has a well-deserved reputation for fighting through days when he's not quite as good and never lets us down. I thought we had enough game to give up that out." -- LaRussa

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.