Has Tigers lefty Kenny Rogers been cheating during his remarkable postseason performance of 23 consecutive scoreless innings? FOX Sports cameras picked up a mysterious brown stain on his pitching hand when he took the mound during his eight inning, two hit smackdown of the Cardinals on Sunday night.
Redbirds manager Tony LaRussa asked the umpires to address the situation, saying, "I don't like the stuff, let's get it fixed," but didn't insist Rogers be searched on the mound. Had he done so, and the substance turned out to be illegal, Rogers could have been suspended for the remainder of the World Series.
Cardinal faithful and sports commentators nationwide have lambasted LaRussa for not being more aggressive in his handling of the situation. Why not have the umpires undress Rogers on the mound in an effort to determine what the mystery substance was? "I don't want to win like that," LaRussa said during Monday's walk-through at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
He said he'd told the umpires he didn't like it and wanted it fixed and they fixed it. End of story? Hardly.
Rogers said he just rubbed baseballs down in the bullpen prior to the game with a mixture of dirt and resin to make them easier to grip in the cold Detroit air. LaRussa scoffed at that, "I don't believe it was dirt, it didn't look like dirt to me."
Rogers said reports that he'd washed his hands in the clubhouse after the first inning were wrong and implied the Cards were grasping at straws, "I wiped them off. If they want to make it an issue, they can. But it's not an issue."
LaRussa's comments were carried over the public address system at Busch Monday. The Tigers were taking the field for practice as he spoke and several of them were seen stopping to listen to what the Cards skipper had to say. Tigers first base coach, and long-time St. Louis Cardinal, Andy Van Slyke said, "It has no bearing on how Kenny Rogers pitched, period. None, the sad part is people are going to talk about dirt on the hand instead of the way he pitched."
St. Louis backup catcher Gary Bennett said, "The bottom line is that after it was brought to his attention, he pitched innings 2 through 8 and we didn't do anything." In fact, the only inning the Redbirds managed multiple baserunners was during the first before Rogers cleaned the substance off his pitching hand.
Cardinal outfielder Preston Wilson didn't seem inclined to believe the Detroit ace's side of the story. "You don't like the integrity of the game coming into question," Wilson said. "But the fact is, when things are said and done, they have to live with it. They have to sleep with that at night. They have to sit back at the end of their career and say whether they did it on their own merit or not. To me, that's more than anything else can do to them."
LaRussa became visibly upset when it was implied that perhaps his close friendship with Detroit manager Jim Leyland had played a role in his decision not to address the Rogers situation more vigorously. "We're friends. The competition isn't about friends," said La Russa. "This is about the Tigers and the Cardinals. And if somebody seriously accused me of that, I would get very upset and confrontational."
Whatever anyone thinks of Tony LaRussa, he's a man of integrity who wants his team to win the World Series on the field as it should be won, not by the rulebook. Could he have been more aggressive against Rogers? Sure, he could have, but LaRussa did his job. He pointed it out to the umpires and left it up to them to insure he wouldn't need to act further on it. Does it take away from Kenny Rogers' spectacular performance in this postseason? Yes, but I don't think it should. If he only stymied the Cards because of a foreign substance on his thumb in the first, how do you explain innings 2 through 8?
Rogers deserves the highest respect for stepping up and leading when his young team needs him the most. LaRussa deserves respect for wanting the series decided on the field by the players.
Anyone who thinks Tony LaRussa would allow a personal friendship to jeopardize his teams chances of taking baseball's ultimate prize doesn't understand the man's deep desire to win. He and Jim Leyland are best friends, that won't stop either of them from pulling out all the stops and it certainly won't keep the players from leaving everything on the field when it's all over.
I think it's going to be a heck of a World Series. I'm picking the Cardinals to win, but I won't cry if this bunch of scrappy, hustling kids from Detroit takes it.
Did Kenny Rogers cheat in game two? Who knows? I've decided it doesn't matter. I can't wait for game 3!