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“The answer might not be what you’re looking for, but he’s always got one.”

As proof of that, even with a four-run lead in Game 7, La Russa was sketching out an endgame about what to do if Motte, a right-hander, was shaky in trying to close out the game and the Rangers managed to send a few left-handed hitters to the plate. He couldn’t remember afterward if he bounced the scheme off Pettini or Dave Duncan, his pitching coach, but La Russa’s plan was to move Motte from the mound to the outfield, bring in left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to pitch to the Rangers‘ left-handers, then bring Motte back to pitch to the right-handers.

“I don’t know if I’d do it,” he said. “I’ve never done it before in my life.”

The one thing La Russa knew for certain, though, is that he wouldn’t be dissuaded by the risk, or by the backlash that was inevitable if it backfired.

“When you’re doing all that, you know it can get away from you, and that’s part of the stress of those last innings,” he said, “because it’s a real small margin getting those last outs.”

When the final one came, more fans dressed in shimmering Cardinals red streamed into the ballpark than left it. After watching their ballclub survive two elimination games against the mighty Phillies at the start of the playoffs, then two more against the Rangers twice down to their last strike in Game 6 St. Louis fans were determined to throw themselves a party.

La Russa and his ballclub can finally do the same.