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A sharp skipper is key to World Series success

Rangers manager RWashingt(left) says he can’t beCardinals manager Tony LRusschess game.  |  AP

Rangers manager Ron Washington (left) says he can’t beat Cardinals manager Tony La Russa in a chess game. | AP

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Updated: November 22, 2011 8:42AM

ST. LOUIS — Nine days ago, Theo Epstein agreed to a five-year, $18.5 million deal to become the new guiding force in the Cubs’ baseball operations, and as the Cubs and Boston Red Sox struggle to close this deal, one question sticks out.

Now what?

We all knew the Cubs were getting a new baseball braintrust that will include Epstein, San Diego Padres general manager Jed Hoyer and possibly Hoyer’s assistant GM, Jason McLeod. All are considered to be bright baseball minds, but let’s see how they do in their first big move: Finding a manager to replace the overmatched Mike Quade.

Remember, this blockbuster rebuilding of the Cubs’ baseball department — one that figures to squeeze out the bumbling Crane Kenney — is designed to deliver the Cubs to a World Series in a hurry.

And if you’ve been watching the 107th World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, it’s clear a razor-sharp manager is key to that winning formula.

Sacrifice flies by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young in the ninth inning off the Cards’ vaunted bullpen lifted the Rangers to a 2-1 victory, evening the Series at 1 entering a scheduled day off Friday.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Rangers manager Ron Washington were again uncomfortably shoved into the spotlight during these nail-biters in the first two games.

Managers in the spotlight? This is what happens on baseball’s biggest stage.

Hope the Cubs’ new bosses are watching.

If the Cubs were simply trying to rebuild and wait out the process, any no-name or even Quade would work in the early years. But if you’re building a World Series team at hyper speed, you had better find the right manager.

And if we learned anything from 2008, Cubs fans won’t settle simply for a division title and ticket to the playoffs. It’s World Series or bust.

With that in mind, the Cubs might want to look beyond a relatively inexperienced Ryne Sandberg, unless he can persuade old friend, and vastly experienced major-league manager, Larry Bowa to be his bench coach. Or, as long as they’re raiding the financially strapped Padres, they could move to pluck the respected Bud Black.

Whomever they pick better be able to withstand the heat of October. In this World Series, we have watched Washington get scorched, such as his questionable pinch-hitting choices in Game 1. It’s not so much the moves he made, but the confidence — or lack of confidence — Washington displayed. It led to two days’ worth of grilling.

“Mostly it comes down to you make a move; if it works, ‘Hey, good move,’ ” La Russa said. “If it doesn’t work, ‘What was he thinking?’ ”

The difference here is La Russa’s a veteran comfortable playing this October chess game. He might spar with second-guessing reporters, but deep down, he doesn’t care what the world thinks.

He makes moves with clear confidence — the sign of a manager in complete control.

By the way, La Russa’s pinch hitters this season had gone 10-for-22 (.455 average) after Allen Craig’s RBI single in the seventh gave the Cards a 1-0 lead in Game 2. Just before the at-bat with runners at first and second and two outs, Washington lifted starter Colby Lewis after 87 pitches in favor of right-hander Alexi Ogando. More second-guessing?

It was the identical scenario from Game 1, when Craig delivered the go-ahead run against Ogando.

Washington is making his second straight trip to the World Series. But his unease has been evident this postseason. Even when asked about going head-to-head with La Russa before Game 2, Washington showed his confidence needs a boost.

“I don’t think I can win a chess game against Tony,” Washington admitted. “The best I can do is try to put my players in a position to be successful and hope they execute, and if they execute, I think the chess matches take care of themselves.”

That philosophy works in the regular season. In the postseason, chess matches almost always come into play. Hope you’re watching, Theo.

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