In La Russa's swan song, Cards send him out on top
Holliday, Furcal each notch hit, score run as NL cruises to 8-0 win vs AL
Former and current coaches, five players and one future Hall of Fame manager donned Cardinals uniforms for the 83rd All-Star Game, which, in addition to ensuring the National League home-field advantage in October, served as a cap to a magical 2011 season in St. Louis.
Unaware that Game 7 of the 2011 World Series was to be manager Tony La Russa's last, members of La Russa's former coaching staff (including Dave McKay and Joe Pettini, who are now with other NL Central clubs) and several players glowed with excitement about the chance to enjoy a curtain call together.
And, as they did last October, they helped send La Russa off with a win.
"It's cool for us," Matt Holliday said. "Being Tony's last game, I feel honored to be a part of the team that gets to play for him. It's nice to see some of the coaches that have moved on to other things."
Four of the six Cardinals named to the NL All-Star team appeared in the game, and three made direct contributions to the Senior Circuit's 8-0 victory over the American League.
Rafael Furcal and Holliday teamed up to extend the NL's advantage to 6-0 in the fourth, when Furcal tripled with two outs and scored on Holliday's pinch-hit single.
That ended up being Holliday's only at-bat. The six-time All-Star now has three hits and two RBIs in his Midsummer Classic appearances.
"That's one thing about us Cardinals, it's fresh in our minds that this game really does matter," Holliday said, speaking to the significance of pulling out a win. "It may not seem like a big deal right now, but it can mean something."
Making his third All-Star Game appearance and first start, Furcal remained in the game longer than any other starter from either side. It wasn't until the eighth that La Russa inserted Chicago's Starlin Castro to pinch-hit and then finish the game at short.
The extended appearance allowed Furcal to come to the plate three times, even though he was hitting out of the ninth spot. Furcal finished 1-for-3.
"I have been excited about starting for the first time," said Furcal. "Last year, I was hurt at this time. Then the way I started in Spring Training, I didn't think I could be in the All-Star Game."
Furcal was one of two Cardinal position players to be voted an All-Star starter. The other, Carlos Beltran, received one of the loudest ovations from the 40,933 fans at Kauffman Stadium.
Playing just his fourth game in Kansas City since a June 2004 trade sent him from the Royals to the Astros, Beltran drew a two-out walk from AL starter Justin Verlander in the first. That walk became a key point in the inning, too. The next three NL batters reached, and by the time the inning came to an end, the NL had raced out to a 5-0 lead.
"Normally, when you face him during the season you get 90, 91 [mph] early in the game," Beltran said of Verlander. "But he came out firing 97, 98 [mph]. He was missing his spots, and we were able to capitalize."
First-time All-Star David Freese entered the game midway through, though the most intriguing part of his night wasn't how long he played (two innings), but where La Russa put him.
Freese hadn't played first base this season and his career resume at the position included 21 Major League innings, but with four third basemen on his roster, La Russa knew he had to get creative.
He chose first base for Freese.
Chicago's Bryan LaHair chipped in with the glove.
"It was my pleasure to let him use it," joked LaHair, "and he made all the plays that he needed to."
Freese's night in the field was uneventful. At the plate, he struck out in his only at-bat.
"It's cool to be a part of this group," Freese said. "The coolest part about this has been being with Tony and the whole 2011 staff, and I'm four hours away from home. It's perfect."
Lance Lynn, also a first-timer, was the only Cardinals All-Star present in Kansas City who did not make a game appearance.
Lynn knew ahead of time that his chance to pitch hinged on how starter Matt Cain fared. If Cain pitched one inning, Lynn would likely get the seventh or eighth. If Cain went two, Lynn would be saved in case the game extended into extras.
Cain ended up tossing two innings, and since no extra frames were needed, Lynn spent the night as a spectator.
"I think it was more of the fact that he felt it easier to let me know that I wasn't going to pitch because I played for him," Lynn said. "Every year there are a couple guys who don't get to pitch, but it was an enjoyable experience to be able to be here with these guys and we were able to win."
As Lynn was meeting with reporters postgame, La Russa made a circle in the clubhouse, shaking the hand of every player he could find. When he got to Lynn, he paused.
"You're not bad mouthing me are you?" La Russa asked.
Lynn jokingly fired back.
"I already threw you under the bus," he said.
The two embraced, likely the last time they would as player and manager.
"I think it is like the World Series was last year," Lynn said, "where you don't soak it in until you have the day of relaxing afterward, once you get home."