ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa's not certain he wants to return for a 15th season as St. Louis Cardinals manager. For one thing, he didn't expect to begin so soon the decision-making process that begins every time his contract expires.
The Cardinals were the first National League team to clinch a division title, loaded with star power in the lineup and two Cy Young candidates at the top of a strong rotation. They were the first team to go home after getting swept in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
La Russa fully intended to be managing the team in Game 4 on Sunday instead of packing for his trip home to the West Coast. He was disappointed in his team's response after Matt Holliday's dropped fly ball for what would have been the final out in Game 2, allowing the Dodgers to rally and then put away a reeling team with a 5-1 victory Saturday in St. Louis.
"I've just started thinking about it," La Russa said while attempting to organize his cluttered office at Busch Stadium. "I really thought we'd make a series of it."
The 65-year-old La Russa asks himself the same questions: Does ownership want me back? Do the players want me back? After all these years, are they still responding to his brand of leadership?
"Is what you're saying not helpful?" La Russa said. "Those thoughts go through your mind."
General manager John Mozeliak said La Russa has a job if he wants one but hadn't spoken with the manager about the future. The GM was optimistic pitching coach Dave Duncan, disgruntled earlier in the season after the trade of his son, Chris Duncan, and other organizational issues, wanted to return.
"We need to sit down and talk," Mozeliak said. "We don't need to do it today because it's still pretty fresh, the wound."
The Cardinals batted .133 (4 for 30) with runners in scoring position, numbers that La Russa contends are somewhat misleading because of many hard-hit balls that were right at fielders.
Besides the disastrous gaffe, Holliday was 2 for 12 with a solo homer.
"Ain't no free lunch," La Russa said. "Matt's going to take some hits for this."
Albert Pujols was a non-factor, too, going 3 for 10 with an RBI. The Dodgers studiously avoided him with runners in scoring position and issued three intentional walks the first two games, even though he didn't seem to be the same guy that batted .327 with an NL-leading 47 homers and 135 RBIs.
Pujols didn't homer in his final 89 at-bats after Sept. 9. La Russa said teams just pitched his star tough.
"People can pick and choose whatever they want to write about or talk about and if somebody wants to look at the last 80-90 at-bats and say he wasn't hitting the ball with authority and wasn't strong enough to hit the ball out of the park, they can point to that stat," La Russa said. "I think it's ridiculous."
Most unsettling to La Russa was the Cardinals exiting the postseason with a whimper after two competitive games in Los Angeles.
"We got beat, so you take the heat," the manager said. "Yesterday, whatever heat they want to bring, we deserve it."
Besides who manages the team, the Cardinals face a number of personnel issues in an offseason that arrived so quickly. Tops on the list are the twin big-ticket items of attempting to get a long-term deal with Holliday, who cost the franchise three prospects and is headed for free agency, and signing Pujols to an extension.
Mozeliak said he'd get to work on Monday.
"It's kind of depressing, really," the general manager said. "You realize the finality."
Since coming from Oakland on July 24, a trade that spurred the Cardinals to a runaway triumph in the Central, Holliday has been consistently noncommittal when questioned about free agency.
"If they get something done, they get something done," teammate Ryan Ludwick said. "I think he knows everyone likes him."
"In a perfect world, if I could have one more run, gosh, that would be great," Smoltz said.
The Cardinals are likely to look for a cheaper alternative to 15-game winner Joel Pineiro, due for free agency, and La Russa expects outfielder Rick Ankiel to seek a regular job elsewhere. They'll almost certainly cut ties with infielders Troy Glaus and Khalil Greene, who had contracts worth more than $18 million last year but contributed little.
Kyle Lohse, a 15-game winner last year but unused in the playoffs, struggled with his command after getting hit by a pitch on the right forearm in late May and finished 6-10. He vowed not to pick up a baseball again until January and joked that he'd bat with Barry Bonds-style body armor next season.