La Russa's rolling out 7 relievers pays off

INSIDE PITCH

July 09, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

If it works, don't change.

The Oakland Athletics may have recorded a major-league first Thursday night because manager Tony La Russa followed that philosophy with his strategy.

This one will require more than a little research, but it's doubtful that any team ever used seven relief pitchers in a game without any allowing a run. But that's what the A's did in a 6-4 win over the Orioles two nights ago.

La Russa set the tone for this one early, using left-hander Vince Horsman to get one batter, Harold Baines, leading off the sixth inning. He still had 11 outs to go, but the A's manager seized the moment.

He had a two-run lead and decided to nurse it to the finish, basically playing each out as though it was the last.

After Horsman, who replaced starter Todd Van Poppel, six more relievers paraded to the mound. And the last two, Mark Acre and Dennis Eckersley, each pitched an entire inning.

In the sixth and seventh innings, La Russa used five pitchers to get six outs. If it works, don't change.

With the All-Star break on the horizon, and having to face Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina in back-to-back games, La Russa went for the jugular with a two-run lead. After using two pitchers in the sixth, he made three changes in the seventh, when the Orioles got the first two runners on base.

The bottom line: no runs.

"It was very unusual," said La Russa. "If they hadn't gotten [runners on] first and second and no out, I wouldn't have used three pitchers.

"The idea is, in the inning you're playing, make it as tough as you can for the other guy to score. I'm sure Johnny [Oates, Orioles' manager] would have done the same thing."

Not quite. Oates only has two left-handers in the bullpen, as opposed to the three La Russa uses to set up Eckersley -- but the odds are strong that his strategy would've been much the same.

"My attitude tomorrow [last night] would be the same as today -- shoot the works," said La Russa. "If you have a chance to win the game, shoot the works."

He did, and he did.

In the process, La Russa made more moves in one inning than some on port leave make in a week. When it was over, he wasn't overly concerned about the condition of his bullpen.

"We've got some guys who were spotted [for one out]," he said. "Eckersley might not be ready though."

And it could've rained. It's called worrying about tomorrow, tomorrow.

It didn't rain last night at Camden Yards -- and La Russa didn't need Eckersley. But he did have a win in hand, thanks to seven relievers who combined to pitch four scoreless innings.

You probably could look it up to see if it ever happened before. Good luck.

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