ST. LOUIS -- Dale Sveum played for Tony La Russa in 1993 in Oakland and learned a lot from the former big league manager, who was celebrated Friday as part of the Cardinals' Opening Day festivities.
Sveum said La Russa, who retired after leading the Cardinals to the World Series championship last season, always put players in situations where he felt they would have success.
"He always played the big boys against the best pitchers," Sveum said Friday. "But the thing about Tony was he gave the bench players an opportunity and always put them in situations where they were going to succeed, meaning me, because I was on the bench. You feel good about yourself, except one day when I had to face Randy Johnson and he struck out 17 that day."
In 1993, Sveum played 30 games for the Athletics and saw playing time at all four infield positions as well as making one start in left.
"Watching him and coaching against him, [La Russa] was always ahead of the game and pushed the envelope, and he'll try things other managers won't do," Sveum said. "He'll do things with his pitchers. He'd get his pitchers moving and in running situations and things like that.
"Watching a guy like that, you learn. I think a lot of people learned in the postseason last year about a bullpen. He obviously had one heck of a durable bullpen, and he went to them and kept going to them, and it probably won them the World Series."
When La Russa was with the Cardinals, he often would insert the pitcher into the eighth spot in the lineup instead of ninth.
"I'm not going to say I wouldn't [do that]," Sveum said. "There are situations where you would. It's usually when you can get two leadoff guys at the top. That's when it works the best."
When he was hired by the Cubs, Sveum cited La Russa as well as Joe Torre and Tom Trebelhorn as managers he studied.
"The biggest thing is he wasn't afraid to play his role players," Sveum said. "He put me in left field one day, and I had never played left field in my life. He said, 'Yeah, I just want to get your bat in there and see what happens.'"
How did Sveum do?
"I did OK," he said. "I didn't get exposed too much."
Pujols is gone, and Cubs don't miss him
ST. LOUIS -- No Pujols, no problem for the Cubs.
Albert Pujols is now with the Angels after 11 seasons in St. Louis. He compiled a .302 career average against the Cubs and belted 53 home runs off Chicago pitchers, his highest total against any opponent. Twenty-six of those came at Wrigley Field, and six were hit last season, including two Carlos Marmol would like to forget.
"When you think of the Cardinals, the first thing you think of is Pujols," Cubs pitcher Rodrigo Lopez said.
But the slugger is gone, and now the Cardinals' scouting report looks different. Sort of.
"Right now, I'm not so sure they're losing anything with [Carlos] Beltran in there, not to take anything away from Pujols," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Friday. "The one thing about Beltran is he hits from both sides of the plate, and he runs.
"The biggest thing [Friday] is not having [Lance] Berkman in there," Sveum said. "[Matt] Holliday, Beltran, [David] Freese is about as good a 3-4-5 as there is in baseball, let alone the National League."
Lopez said the Cardinals are still a threat.
"It's different [without Pujols], but those guys -- Holliday, Freese -- are good, and Freese is getting better all the time," Lopez said. "Not having Pujols protecting Holliday and Berkman, it changes your way to pitch. Having Pujols at any time, especially with runners in scoring position, makes you work a little more. Without Pujols' protection, we can be more aggressive."
Lopez had the edge against Pujols until last season, when the slugger went 6-for-9 against him. Before that, Pujols was 0-for-11. So Lopez won't miss him?
"No, I won't," Lopez said. "It's good he's not here. I'm not going to miss him."
The Cubs will be watching the Cardinals' ring ceremony on Saturday.
"It matters a lot," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Friday. "There's only one world champion, and they're getting their rings [Saturday] and I think it's one of the most special days in sports when any of the four major sports are getting their rings. It's a great day."
Sveum has two World Series rings, winning with the Yankees as a player in 1998 and the Red Sox as a coach in 2004. Cubs coach Dave McKay will receive one Saturday; he was on the Cardinals' coaching staff last season.
"We've got one of our own getting one, so I think it's very important for everybody to be out there to watch and respect what the Cardinals did last year as well as what Dave McKay did as well," Sveum said.
Cubs pitcher Matt Garza said seeing the ceremony will just tick him off.
"You're jealous," Sveum said. "I think any of the other 29 teams that isn't getting one, you're jealous of the fact someone is getting one and not you."
The Cubs have an off-day Monday but will not alter their rotation and keep everyone in line. Ryan Dempster has thrown 100 pitches in each of his starts, and Garza threw 91 in his first start, then 119 on Thursday.
Speaking of Garza, his throwing error with two outs in the ninth inning cost him a chance at a shutout against the Brewers. Last year, Garza made a career-high seven errors.
"The ball slips out of your hands at that point in the game, the odds, for one, are very slim for something like that to happen at that point," Sveum said. "He works on it with [pitching coach Chris Bosio] and everything."
The Cubs will host the seventh annual Race to Wrigley 5K Run presented by AthletiCo this Saturday at Wrigley Field. Runners may still register on-site Saturday. Proceeds will benefit Chicago Cubs Charities.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.