Tony La Russa defends intentional walk before Max Muncy homer


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It’s easy to second-guess Tony La Russa’s decision in hindsight, especially after it backfired in spectacular fashion.

But plenty of folks — including fans, players and a broadcast team — wondered right away what in the world the Chicago White Sox manager was thinking when he ordered an intentional walk to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Trea Turner on Thursday. At that moment, Turner was facing a 1-2 count with two outs, meaning the White Sox were one strike away from ending the inning.

As fate would have it, the next batter, to whom La Russa clearly preferred to pitch, hit a home run.

Max Muncy’s three-run shot ultimately went a long way, literally and otherwise, toward helping Los Angeles get an 11-9 win at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field.

The sequence unfolded in the sixth inning after the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman reached first base with a two-out RBI single that gave his team a 7-5 lead. White Sox rookie reliever Bennett Sousa then worked an 0-2 count on Turner before throwing a wild pitch that allowed Freeman to advance to second.

With first base open, La Russa elected to give Turner the pass, even though the 2021 all-star was in a disadvantageous position. The 77-year-old manager explained after the game that he felt Muncy, a lefty who has struggled at the plate this season and was in his first game back from an injury-related absence, was a better matchup for the left-handed Sousa than the right-handed, annually dangerous Turner.

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In fact, La Russa adopted an air of mild disbelief that his decision was even questioned by reporters at the postgame news conference.

“Do you know what [Turner] hits against left-handed pitching?” La Russa asked. “With 0-1, or two strikes, do you know what he hits? Do you know what Muncy hits with two strikes, against left-handed pitching?

“I mean, is that really a question? Because it was 1-2?” La Russa continued. “… Now, if [Dodgers catcher Will] Smith was hitting behind him, it would have been a different thing. But Muncy’s there — it’s an easy call. I mean, it’s an easy call for me. If Turner gets a hit there, I’d be walking into the lake or something, because that would’ve been stupid.”

La Russa then wondered aloud whether “anybody in this room” actually thought the White Sox “should have gone after Turner,” even given the two-strike count.

No one answered in person, but plenty of people who saw the clip online, and probably more than a few in attendance, felt there was another option apart from the intentional walk. Even if La Russa didn’t want to challenge Turner with first base open, he could have ordered Sousa to start intentionally missing the strike zone in hopes that the Dodgers star would chase a bad pitch.

In any event, La Russa’s unspecific evocation of Turner’s and Muncy’s statistics against lefties in various strike counts was catnip to seam heads only too happy to dig into the numbers. Per Baseball Reference, Turner is batting .256 on 1-2 counts, and he’s at .286 against left-handed pitchers (.309 vs. righties). Muncy is batting .125 against lefties, an anemic figure that could add weight to the manager’s unorthodox strategy.

But the figure for Muncy comes from just 40 at-bats, making for the kind of small sample size that doesn’t always tell the full analytical tale. Since arriving with the Dodgers in 2018, the 31-year-old infielder has hit .251 against lefties (going into Thursday’s game). In his seven-year major league career, Turner has a .197 average on 1-2 counts.

Some of the other Dodgers involved did not appear to think much of La Russa’s decision. Freeman was shown on camera with a visibly quizzical reaction to the sight of Turner getting the intentional walk. After crossing home plate following his three-run homer, Muncy appeared to some lip readers to mouth a profanely dismissive comment regarding the manager’s maneuver.

“The baseball mind in me gets it,” Muncy said following the game. “Obviously, my year has sucked up to this point. Trea’s been really good.”

“At the moment, I was animated and I’ll just leave it at that,” he added. “But at the same time, I don’t know if walking someone with two strikes is ever the right move. It kind of gave me something that I really haven’t had a lot of this year. In the past, I’ve always been the guy who [was] very fiery and had a lot of edge. To kind of get that back felt really good, to be honest.”

“I was just confused,” Turner said. “I didn’t know if I should go to first or not, but I guess they liked the matchup.”

“Turner with a strike left against left-handers is something to avoid, if you can,” La Russa told reporters. “And we had an open base, and Muncy happened to be the guy behind him. And that’s the better matchup.

“If somebody disagrees, that’s the beauty of this game. You’re welcome to it. But that wasn’t a tough call.”


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