The postseason challenges all major league managers, haunts some and threatens others. \nBut to Tony La Russa, the St. Louis Cardinals' dugout maestro, the postseason is "the most fun you can have" as a manager. \nThe most fun? \nKnowing that if your team doesn't go on to win the World Series (and maybe even if it does), you'll be second-guessed for every starter who was shelled? For every pitching change that went wrong? For every pinch-hitter who struck out? For every base runner who was thrown out? And if enough decisions went wrong, knowing you might be fired? \nThat's the most fun? \n"The regular season is a long grind," La Russa said before the Cardinals began their National League division series with the Los Angeles Dodgers that they now lead, 2-0. \n"But in the postseason, everything's out in front of you. You don't have to save anything. It's the most fun you can have." \nNow in the postseason for the 10th time in his managerial career, La Russa has learned to separate October from the six-month grind of the 162-game regular season. \n"The most important thing is the postseason," he said. "I mean, the reason you go to spring training is to have a chance for the ring, so you separate it. We had a really good regular season," meaning 105 victories, the most in either league, "and now it's eight really good teams. The competition -- that's why you play the game." \nAnd that's why Tony La Russa manages the game. \nAt 60, he has been doing it in the big leagues for a quarter of a century. His 2,114 regular-season victories with the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland Athletics and the Cardinals rank first among current managers and sixth on the career list, behind Connie Mack, John McGraw, Sparky Anderson, Bucky Harris and Joe McCarthy. Next season, he should pass all except Mack (3,731) and McGraw (2,763). \nBut in his 38-31 postseason record through the 8-3 rout of the Dodgers on Thursday night, La Russa has had more disappointments than fun in October. \nOf his 10 divisional winners, only one, the 1989 Athletics, went on to win the World Series, in an earthquake-interrupted sweep of the San Francisco Giants. His 1988 and 1990 Athletics lost the World Series, to the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds. Of his four previous playoff teams in St. Louis, three lost the NL Championship Series (to the Atlanta Braves in 1996, the Mets in 2000 and the Giants in 2002), and one lost a division series (to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001). \nAsked if all those Octobers gave him an educational edge on a manager with no postseason experience, like the Dodgers' Jim Tracy, La Russa shook his head. \n"There's a couple answers to that," he said. "No. 1, it's always a game between players, so the manager in none of these series is going to be a big difference. There isn't anybody that's managing any of the eight clubs that hasn't already learned to put guys in the right spot, so it's really a players series. \n"The only thing about Jim is, he coached with Felipe Alou in Montreal," La Russa continued. "It's not like he's managed in some hideaway place where nobody pays attention. He manages for the Los Angeles Dodgers. \n"It's a historic franchise, so he's made a lot of pressure decisions. It's the same situation here." \nWhen the Cardinals, who had a 17 1/2-game lead Sept. 7, clinched the NL Central title early and then coasted to a 5-5 finish, even their loyal fans wondered if they could suddenly turn on their power when the playoffs began. \nBut in the opener Tuesday, they smashed five homers, two by Larry Walker. \n"I really don't think we turned it off," La Russa said afterward. \n"I think it was harder to get there because we had the championship clinched, and we had to manufacture momentum and motivation. I watched the guys, they were out there trying, but they were losing a little edge. The edge was back today."
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