There are 50 Shades of Tony LaRussa, and we’ve seen a few this week.
There was Happy Tony before his Chicago White Sox opened a homestand Monday on the South Side’s first summer night, with Yoán Moncada and Joe Kelly back and his team on a six-game winning streak. Their eight-game skid was in the rearview mirror, and better days were ahead.
Then we got a glimpse of Ornery Tony late Monday after the Sox blew a six-run ninth-inning lead to the Cleveland Guardians and ultimately went down 12-9 in 11 innings.
The Sox made four errors, including two in the fateful ninth by Moncada and Tim Anderson before Josh Naylor’s grand slam against Liam Hendricks. La Russa defended Moncada after being asked about the two errors, claiming the ball jumped on the third baseman.
“Who is the other one you didn’t like?” La Russa asked CHGO reporter Vinnie Duber.
Duber pointed out Anderson’s mistake.
“Have you ever tried to throw something? asked La Russa.
Duber pointed out that Anderson’s error was on a missed catch from an outside throw.
“We didn’t lose this game because of our defence,” La Russa said. “I don’t agree with that, so…”
It’s all part of La Russa’s competitive nature, we’re told, which is why President Jerry Reinsdorf brought him out of retirement to finish the job that Rick Renteria couldn’t. No one takes it personally when La Russa questions the validity of a valid question. Professional risk.
Happy Tony returned after Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over the Guardians, which preceded an unfortunate outbreak of COVID-19 within the Guardians’ coaching ranks that led to a postponement on Wednesday. It was well timed for the Sox, giving the La Russa bullpen an extra day off before the four-game series against the New York Yankees, baseball’s top team.
Before Thursday’s game, Duber asked La Russa if Triple-A Charlotte pitcher Johnny Cueto was an option for Tuesday’s doubleheader in Kansas City, Mo. Next, we saw Funny Tony.
“You’re an option,” La Russa told Duber, drawing awkward laughter from those who remembered La Russa previously asking Duber if he had ever made a pitch.
Somehow, Duber had not only convinced La Russa that he could pitch, but also start for the White Sox.
Next came Befuddled Tony on Thursday night after Kelly recorded the first two outs of the eighth inning on four pitches in a 7-7 game before imploding with three straight walks, including seven walks in his last eight pitches. It was Kelly’s second outing after recovering from a right bicep injury in the 6½ months.
La Russa let Kelly face Aaron Judge, who hit a home run against Ryan Burr who nearly crossed 35th Street in his previous at-bat. Kelly prompted Judge to hit a weak chopper in the middle, a tough play but one that a good second baseman could make with the ginormous Judge running to first.
Leury García was not that second baseman. His throw wasn’t strong enough to beat Judge on a bang-bang play. As the green light scored and the first base umpire signaled Judge safe, first baseman José Abreu fell asleep for a second as Gleyber Torres rolled around third and scored the second run on the play.
Abreu attempted an awkward throw to the plate that NBC Sports Chicago analyst Ozzie Guillén mocked on the outside during the postgame show. In real time, analyst Steve Stone directly pointed the finger at Abreu’s inattention for allowing the second inning to score.
Kelly then completely collapsed, walking Anthony Rizzo four pitches. Instead of calling out Duber, who was in the press box to write his story, La Russa called up left-hander Tanner Banks to face right-handed hitter Giancarlo Stanton, who had two-shot Dylan Cease.
With the Sox already trailing, Russa didn’t want to use high-leverage relievers Hendriks, who pitched last Monday, or Kendall Graveman, who had a day off after the postponement.
“At that point we’re already down, I don’t think you can lose an arm,” La Russa said later before correcting himself. “Don’t lose an arm, use an arm. That’s what I think.”
Stanton scored another point at home on a 0-2 change. Banks then served a three-run home run to right-handed hitter Josh Donaldson, making it 14-7. After the 15-7 loss, we saw Bemused Tony, still marveling at the ridiculous turn of events in the eighth after two quick outs in a draw.
“I mean, you had to see it to believe it,” La Russa said. “I still don’t believe it.”
It would have made a great marketing slogan for the 2022 Sox, a team you have to see to believe. Only 20,050 fans showed up on a fine Thursday night for the start of the biggest home series of the season, and the team averaged 16,596 in two games against the Guardians in similar weather.
The Sox didn’t really help their cause. They entered Friday’s game 15-15, ranked dead last in fielding and 12th in throwing and hitting .225 as a team. It’s not the kind of performance that gives off “World Series vibes.”
So what shades of Tony La Russa will we see the rest of the season?
We can’t wait to find out.