- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Some of the best basestealers in baseball have the green light to run whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Albert Pujols has the green light to send them.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday the star first baseman has earned the authority and responsibility to call for a hit-and-run if Pujols thinks it’s the right play. It’s something La Russa has allowed other players to do, too, and that Pujols has been doing for several years.

“When you have a player that really understands the game, that player gets a lot of leeway and ability to be involved, based on how he’s reading what’s going on,” La Russa said. “It happens to pitchers that are really smart, Tom Seaver. It happens to catchers when the benches are defending the running games. … Albert has the ability on this club, for several years, to put a hit-and-run on.”

The issue became a major point of discussion after Game 5 of the World Series on Monday night.

The game was tied at 2 with one out in the seventh inning when Pujols sent Allen Craig running from first base. Pujols let go a pitch from the Rangers’ Alexi Ogando that was high and well outside, and Craig was thrown out easily at second.

La Russa could be seen in the dugout asking Craig what had happened, unsure whether someone on the bench had accidentally signaled him to run.

With first base open, Pujols was intentionally walked. After Matt Holliday singled and Lance Berkman was walked, David Freese flied out to end the inning. The Cardinals failed to score another run, and Texas won the game 4-2 to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“I don’t care what your sport is, when a player shows that they really have a feel for the game, coaches give them a lot of well-earned ability to influence what goes on,” La Russa said. “So Albert has that ability. Picked a 1-0 pitch, Ogando threw it out of the strike zone and it didn’t work.”

Usually, Pujols will suggest a hit-and-run before he goes to the plate, and La Russa will decide whether he agrees. But they never discussed it before Pujols‘ at-bat Monday night, and La Russa said less than 24 hours later that he wouldn’t have agreed in that situation.

La Russa said shortstop Edgar Renteria had similar authority when he was with the Cardinals, and others have been able to make in-game calls on his teams in Oakland and Chicago.

“Here’s another point about that. No. 1, his first couple years, Albert got 15, 20 hits on hit-and-runs. One of the best hit-and-run guys I’ve ever been around,” La Russa said.

“The other thing that’s so great about it, if you stop and think about it, a great hitter like Albert, there’s situations come up in a game where the hit-and-run in the manager’s opinion is the play, and you really wonder what message you’re sending your great player when you put the hit-and-run on, because you’re kind of saying, ‘We don’t want you to swing the bat.’

“So when a guy like Albert is so receptive to playing the game right, that’s kind of why I’m so aggressive in addressing this. It’s really a humongous break for our club when a great player wants to play the game right. And that’s kind of the point I want to make.”

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