Monday, October 17, 2005

HOUSTON — One night after his controversial ejection from Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa defended his actions.

“I would not do it any differently tonight,” La Russa said before last night’s Game 5. “Playing the umpires is not how we compete; we play the other side. It just got to a point where it had gone too far. Players had made too much commitment. Somebody had to stand up, and it was my job.”

La Russa was ejected in the seventh inning by plate umpire Phil Cuzzi after arguing a called ball four on Houston’s Lance Berkman. The Cardinals had problems with Cuzzi’s inconsistent strike zone throughout the game.

One inning later, St. Louis center fielder Jim Edmonds was ejected by Cuzzi for arguing a called strike in nearly an identical location as the pitch to Berkman. Afterward, an agitated Edmonds insisted Cuzzi cursed at him and that he said nothing worthy of an ejection himself.

“That doesn’t merit an ejection,” La Russa said yesterday. “I mean, he didn’t say any magic words. He really didn’t make a big thing of it.”

These were only the latest high-profile incidents involving umpires this postseason, but Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy said Cuzzi handled Sunday’s situations appropriately.

“I have been told Phil warned Tony twice and tried to keep him in the game,” DuPuy said. “And, in fact, I believe the first thing Phil said to Tony when he came out last night was, ‘I did everything I could to keep you in the game.’ Do we change the rules for the postseason? Absolutely not.”

That said, all postseason umpires are subject to review by MLB, even though they are selected for their standout performances during the regular season.

“The LCS and the World Series guys are the 18 best in the game,” DuPuy said.

Taveras benched again

For the third straight game, Astros manager Phil Garner started rookie Chris Burke in center field ahead of regular Willy Taveras. Upon making the move the first time for Game 3, Garner insisted it was for one night only, but Burke’s hot bat forced the manager’s hand.

Despite his demotion, Taveras still had a huge impact on the Astros’ Game 4 win. He entered as a pinch-runner in the seventh inning and made a spectacular catch running up the center field hill at Minute Maid Park in the eighth.

Garner expected the NL Rookie of the Year candidate to be ready for similar duty last night.

“I’m sure he would tell you right now, in all honesty, that he’s disappointed and probably mad at me,” Garner said. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way. … Willy will be prepared. He’s a big part of this ballclub and one of the big reasons that we’re here.”

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