PITTSBURGH — If it was his final game as the St. Louis Cardinals’ manager, and there is nothing definitive to suggest it was, Tony La Russa did it a little bit differently than everybody else again.
Skip Schumaker went 5-for-5 and drove in two runs and the Cardinals ended the season the way they wish they began it, winning their fifth in a row by beating last-place Pittsburgh 6-5 on Sunday.
The Cardinals needed a lot of pitchers to do it, and used 10, tying a major league record for a nine-inning game held by two other clubs. The combined 18 pitchers was a record, breaking the record of 16 set on multiple occasions.
Last year’s World Series champions got hot much too late. Their 1-4 start was a forewarning of what was to come. They ended 78-84 and third in the NL Central. The Pirates dropped their final four and 13 of their final 15 to go 68-94, only a one-game improvement over their 67-95 records of 2005 and 2006.
“I’m going to try to forget about this year and I look forward to see what direction they’re going around here,” said the Pirates’ Jason Bay, who hit .247 during the first poor season of his career statistically.
Both managers, La Russa and Pittsburgh’s Jim Tracy, were waiting to see what their futures hold as the season wound down with St. Louis scoring four times in the sixth, keyed by Schumaker’s two-run single, to take a 6-1 lead.
It was a good ending to a mostly bad Cardinals season marred by reliever Josh Hancock’s death, La Russa’s alcohol-related arrest, a possibly career-ending eye injury sustained by Juan Encarnacion when he was struck by a foul ball and allegations that Rick Ankiel may have received a shipment of human growth hormone in 2004.
“It was so typical of how we kept bouncing back all year along, no matter what blow we took,” La Russa said of the season-ending streak. “He (Schumaker) is the only guy in the clubhouse who doesn’t want to end the season. I think we’re all ready to leave.”
La Russa, unsigned for next season, plans to talk Monday with Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt and general manager Walt Jocketty. Tracy may be let go following his third consecutive season with 90-plus losses, two with Pittsburgh. His 135-189 record in two seasons with Pittsburgh is nearly identical to that of predecessor Lloyd McClendon (134-189). Their records are the worst in the first two seasons by a Pirates manager since Fred Haney went 103-205 in 1953-54.
Neal Huntington, the Pirates’ new GM, plans to decide Tracy’s fate quickly, though it seems unlikely Tracy will return. Tracy declined after the game to discuss the 2008 Pirates, saying, “Until I have more information on myself, it doesn’t do me any good to talk about it.”
Even in a meaningless game, La Russa didn’t manage conventionally.
La Russa not only used 10 pitchers, he gave Troy Percival his first start in 639 career appearances in what may have been the 37-year-old Percival’s last game. The previous longest stretch without a start by an active pitcher was Todd Jones’ 632.
The Cardinals were the second NL team in a month to use 10 pitchers. The Rockies also did so Sept. 7 against San Diego. The Orioles also used 10 against the Yankees on Sept. 12, 2004.
“You’re supposed to play this game, not mail it in and hurry up and catch a plane. It was a bullpen game, but not that many,” La Russa said when asked if he planned to use all but one reliever. “We’re both trying to win the game.”
Percival lasted one inning before former Pirates pitcher Kip Wells (7-17) allowed only two singles over three scoreless innings. Jason Isringhausen got the final four outs for his 32nd save in 35 opportunities and 18th in a row. His save percentage of .914 was the NL’s best.
Bryan Bullington (0-3), the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft, gave up two earned runs in five innings in his third career start for Pittsburgh.
Pinch-hitter Jim Edmonds singled in the game’s first run in the second and Scott Spiezio hit his fourth homer in the fourth to put St. Louis up 2-0. The Cardinals scored four times against four Pirates pitchers in a sixth inning started by Ryan Ludwick’s one-out single. Spezio, who scored three times, followed with another base hit.
“I’m just happy it ended the way it did for me,” Schumaker said. “As a backup guy, you’re trying to prove yourself every day.”