La Russa says timing key to Series loss

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JUPITER, Fla. — Tony La Russa’s standard line when asked about the Cardinals’ four-game collapse in the World Series is, “No excuses, Boston was the better team.” But he concedes Boston’s extra day off was an advantage.

The Red Sox lost the first three games of the AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees, then became the first team ever to rally from such a deficit and win a series.

Then Boston had two days off before the World Series while St. Louis had just a single day off after beating Houston in the NLCS, also in seven games.

“Boston had a lot going for it and deserved to win,” La Russa said Monday. “But there is no doubt in my mind (with an added day off) it would have been a more competitive series.

“We celebrated to 3 or 4 in the morning, had Friday to take care of family and fly to Boston and Saturday we are hitting in the series — now that was a scramble,” La Russa said. “Now you try to explain that and it sounds like an excuse. So you stay away from it.

“I just felt that it should have gone six or seven games because we were a good enough team to make it a really good series,” he said.

La Russa said his team can either consider itself the National League champions or World Series losers.

“We choose to stress the positive. The World Series got away from us and we have to live with it,” he said.

WARMING UP: Left-hander Rick Ankiel, hoping to reclaim his role as one of baseball’s most dangerous pitchers, had a wobbly outing Monday, throwing just three strikes in 26 batting-practice pitches.

“I’m a little frustrated, but I have to think positive,” Ankiel said.

La Russa shrugged off the showing, noting that Ankiel “was a little out of whack but he wasn’t missing by much.”

“That happens to a lot of pitchers,” La Russa said. “It isn’t anything that we are worried about.”

The former phenom has looked steady in previous outings this spring training as he tries to earn a spot as a reliever or starter. On Friday, Ankiel threw to hitters for the first time in spring training and kept batters flailing during a 40-pitch performance.

Ankiel arrived in 2000 at age 19 with a mid-90s fastball and a nasty curve that teammate Mark McGwire nicknamed the “snapdragon.” Those tools produced 11 victories and more than a strikeout per inning before wildness and an elbow injury derailed his career for nearly three seasons.

During the 2000 playoffs he threw nine wild pitches and walked four in four innings. Then came a pair of elbow injuries, the second required reconstructive surgery that forced him out for a year.

Ankiel appeared in five late-season games last year and earned his first victory since early in the 2001 season, and La Russa even briefly considered him for the postseason roster.

The Cardinals open exhibition play Wednesday in Jupiter against Florida Atlantic University. Their first game against major-league competition is Thursday against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

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