Tony La Russa’s decision to employ Reynaldo Lopez as an opener Friday night didn’t ignite fires on the internet and the airwaves.
The dark clouds of criticism still hovered over Guaranteed Rate Field one day after La Russa’s failed decision to walk Trea Turner that set up Max Muncy’s three-run homer in a loss to the Dodgers, but the White Sox’ skipper doubled down on his decision while acknowledging the criticism.
“I’m always fascinated, and that’s part of the reason I’m still here,” La Russa said. “I really embrace the excitement of making those decisions. If it don’t go right, I have enough scabs. I can take it.”
La Russa’s decision to start Lopez, after a suggestion from the baseball operations department, paid off in an 8-3 victory against the Rangers. Lopez and Davis Martin, who pitched five innings of three-hit ball, kept the score close enough for the offense to erupt for five runs in the eighth.
Yasmani Grandal snapped a 3-3 tie with a two-run double, and Danny Mendick capped the rally with a two-run homer.
“A lot of clutch hitting,” La Russa said after the Sox had five consecutive hits with two outs in the eighth.
Martin had no issues after learning earlier Friday that he would relieve instead of start.
“It was a little different, but I did it in college my freshman year,” said Martin, who pitched at Texas Tech. “So it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I don’t take a lot of time to warm up anyway. So I embraced it and had fun with it.”
The Rangers also were forced to use Matt Bush as their opener after starter Glenn Otto had a positive COVID-19 test.
At the very least, Martin provided length for a well-worked bullpen and defused some of the attention from the previous day.
But La Russa was ready to elaborate on his decision and on remaining firm in his convictions while taking a nostalgic drive based on what former mentor Paul Richards told him and what he learned from watching managerial greats such as Sparky Anderson, Billy Martin, Earl Weaver and Whitey Herzog, as well as Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
La Russa referenced Belichick’s decision to go for a first down on his 29-yard line on fourth-and-two that cost his team a victory against the Colts in 2009.
“Arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time, right?” La Russa said. “And he got blasted. And that’s the way it is if it doesn’t work. I don’t care who you are. The deep part about it is it really frees you.”
La Russa shook his head when asked if he still believed he made the right decision to walk Turner on a 1-2 count and have Muncy face left-hander Bennett Sousa.
“Twenty-four hours later, I’m even more surprised,” said La Russa, insisting the decision wasn’t a close call.
Turner is batting .344 on 1-2 counts the last three seasons, according to ESPN content producer Paul Hembekides. La Russa reiterated his faith in Sousa and said his decision was heavily influenced by Turner’s success on 1-2 counts.
“Now if it had been a right-handed pitcher, yeah, I probably would have tried to make a pitch,” La Russa said.
Recently, La Russa has come under scrutiny with awkward lineups while working with an injury-riddled roster.
He is merely heeding the advice of Richards, who told him during his second season as a minor-league manager to “trust your gut, don’t cover your butt.”
“He said if you make moves to cover your butt, and they usually don’t work and you get fired, you’ll never know if you’re good enough,” La Russa said.