HOUSTON -- Critical remarks by Tony La Russa, directed at umpire Wally Bell, before Game 3 of the NL championship series may have come back to haunt the Cardinals manager.
On Saturday, La Russa said he hoped that Roger Clemens wouldn't get preferential treatment from Bell, who worked the plate in that game. The next day he made certain the media knew he had complimented Bell for an evenhanded effort.
Then came his problems with Phil Cuzzi, the plate umpire on Sunday. Cuzzi ejected La Russa in the seventh inning of Game 4 and then tossed Jim Edmonds in the eighth, both for arguing pitch calls, after several innings of acrimony.
La Russa now says his focus before Game 3 was on how a pitcher like Clemens, in some cases, can establish his own strike zone.
"When you go against a guy like Greg Maddux or a Roger Clemens, I don't care if it's a regular-season game, is a guy with that kind of command and if he starts getting an edge he pushes and pushes it so it's up to whoever the umpire is," La Russa said. "So, I wasn't calling out Wally Bell.
"That's why sometimes you think, well, maybe you're better off not saying anything."
Before Game 5 La Russa extended an olive branch.
"A lot of the emotion they fire back at players is because of the scrutiny they get, and they're just human, too," La Russa said. "There's replays all over the place. But they are held accountable for everything."
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who was among the league leaders with 117 RBIs, hasn't gotten much of an opportunity to be a big run producer in the NLCS. In 10 of his last 11 at-bats, he had come to the plate with the bases empty.
Pujols, who entered Game 5 with three RBIs in the series, said he hadn't really noticed.
"Frustrated? I don't think so," he said. "This is not a frustrating game, it's a relaxing game. You play the game hard the right way, take advantage when you can.
"My job is to get on base whether there are guys on base or nobody on base, so I don't think about that."
The two players ahead of Pujols in the lineup usually are David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds, and that pair was a combined 5-for-26 in the NLCS.
Cardinals reliever Al Reyes will undergo reconstructive elbow surgery today in St. Louis. Reyes, one of the team's top setup men, was hurt on the final day of the regular season. The rehab process will take nine to 10 months.