When the White Sox hired Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa last October after he had been out of the dugout for nearly a decade, there was great skepticism. Early in his first season back, those critics' concerns have proved to be well-founded.
In recent weeks, La Russa has admitted to mishandling his pitching staff and making other poor in-game decisions. On Wednesday afternoon in Cincinnati, La Russa acknowledged he didn't know an aspect of the rulebook in a 1-0 loss to the Reds in 10 innings.
In a scoreless game entering the top of the 10th inning, La Russa sent White Sox closer Liam Hendriks out to be the designated runner at second base, as part of the new rule implemented in 2020 designed to speed up extra innings. Hendriks had entered the game in place of left fielder Andrew Vaughn as part of a double switch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and he secured that final out to send the game to extras.
Under this extra-innings rule, the designated runner is the player in the batting order immediately preceding the new half-inning’s leadoff hitter. In this case, that was Hendriks, who was in the No. 5 slot in the lineup as No. 6 hitter Yasmani Grandal led off the 10th. But there's one loophole in the rule, as it stipulates that "if the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter is the pitcher, the runner placed on second base at the start of that half-inning may be the player preceding the pitcher in the batting order," according to the Associated Press.
La Russa was unaware of that, which would've allowed first baseman Jose Abreu to run rather than Hendriks. Upon having a reporter read this specific extra-innings rule to him after the game, La Russa said he would review it.
"I'm guessing you know the rules better," La Russa said. "Now I know."
The top of the 10th then proved to be costly for the White Sox. With one out and runners at first and third, White Sox outfielder Leury Garcia was caught attempting to steal second base as the trail runner. Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart was unconcerned about throwing down to second as the closer Hendriks was on third. Hendriks wasn't instructed to attempt to score if Barnhart threw to second.
Making Garcia's steal attempt more perplexing was that La Russa had allowed speedy center fielder Billy Hamilton to hit in the situation. The chances of Hamilton hitting into a double player were minimal. Hamilton ended up striking out for the third out of the inning.
"Well, he can run, they're playing the infield in, we wanted to be aggressive and they threw him out," La Russa said of the decision to send Garcia.
Asked if he regretted the decision, La Russa replied, "No."
Letting the light-hitting Hamilton bat in the first place was another decision up for debate, as a fly ball likely would've gotten Hendriks home. La Russa and the White Sox went into the 10th inning with options off the bench in the form of right fielder Adam Eaton, infielder Danny Mendick and catcher Zack Collins.
Reds left fielder Jesse Winker delivered a game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th inning, knocking the White Sox a half-game out of first place in the AL Central at the time of the loss.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.