Tony La Russa developed a reputation as one of baseball’s best managers during his 10-year tenure with the Oakland Athletics. He cemented it by winning the World Series last year with the St. Louis Cardinals.
La Russa returns to Oakland for the first time since he joined the Cardinals in 1996 when the World Series champions begin a three-game series Friday night against Dan Haren and the Athletics.
Oakland won four division titles, three pennants and the 1989 World Series under La Russa, who went 798-673 with the club from 1986-95. La Russa, who is third on baseball’s all-time wins list and second in A’s history behind Connie Mack, still has a home in the Bay Area.
Despite that success, La Russa’s time with the A’s was questioned because the powerful club won only one championship. The A’s were upset by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1988 World Series, beat San Francisco the next year and were swept by Cincinnati in 1990.
La Russa finally secured his legacy last season when he became only the second manager to win titles in both leagues, joining Sparky Anderson. It was made even more sweet because the Cardinals were an underdog team that finished with the 13th-best record in baseball before earning the club’s first title since 1982.
His team will be facing a familiar face when Haren (7-2, 1.58 ERA) puts baseball’s best ERA on the line in his first outing against his former club. Haren was acquired by Oakland (36-29) from St. Louis with reliever Kiko Calero and catcher Daric Barton for left-hander Mark Mulder on Dec. 18, 2004.
Haren went 6-10 with a 4.85 ERA in 28 appearances, including 19 starts, for St. Louis (28-35) from 2003-04.
With Mulder struggling through injuries for the Cardinals, Haren is starting to make the trade look like a terrific move for Oakland. He won 14 games in each of his first two years with the A’s before emerging as the staff ace this year after Barry Zito departed for San Francisco.
The right-hander is 7-0 with a 1.48 ERA and .170 opponents batting average over his last 11 starts, and 4-0 in seven home starts. He yielded five hits over seven innings last Saturday in a 6-0 win over Zito and the Giants.
“He’s just been so consistent,” A’s manager Bob Geren said. “It’s fun to watch. We feel real good every time he goes out there. He has all the pitches, the stamina to go deep in games and the intelligence to work the hitters. He’s definitely a No. 1.”
Oakland won for the 10th time in 12 games Thursday, 6-5 in 11 innings at Houston. Jason Kendall delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the 11th to complete a strong series.
Kendall went 8-for-14 (.571) as the A’s took two of three from the Astros.
“He’s swinging the bat a lot better in the last week or so,” Geren said. “He has been working real hard with (hitting coach) Ty Van Burkleo every day and it’s starting to show.”
Although St. Louis split two games at Detroit in last year’s World Series, the Cardinals have lost 11 of their last 12 interleague road games after a 17-8 defeat at Kansas City on Thursday. St. Louis has a 10.13 ERA in that span.
Braden Looper (6-5, 4.12) will make his first career start against the A’s, who he has pitched three scoreless innings against over two relief appearances.
Looper has been a bright spot for a beleaguered staff, leading St. Louis in victories. The converted reliever, however, is 0-2 with a 7.64 ERA in his last three outings.