Since the Cardinals wrapped up their National League Championship Series against the Mets on Thursday night in New York, La Russa had no choice except to stack up his rotation behind Reyes with veterans Jeff Weaver, Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan.
Leyland, whose team finished its demolition of the A's on Oct. 14, decided to tinker with the rotations that pushed him quickly through the first two rounds in eight games -- Nate Robertson, Verlander, Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman. Instead, he moved up Verlander a notch and dropped Robertson back two slots.
The Tigers skipper had his reasons and wasn't backing down at all after Verlander was lifted in the sixth inning, having allowed seven runs on six hits, including homers to Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols.
"We made a decision that if we played the Cardinals, Justin would start [the series] and Kenny would be in [Game 2]," Leyland said. "And the reason is, we want Kenny to pitch both games at home. I felt comfortable with Verlander, Robertson third and Bonderman fourth.
"Had we played the Mets, we were going to start Robertson and follow him with Rogers and throw Verlander the third game, but with the Cardinals, we decided to go with Verlander the first game."
That makes Sunday night's Game 2 fairly pivotal for the Tigers if they hope to get two starts out of Rogers, who is slated to go against Weaver. Both of the veteran pitchers have been lights out so far this postseason.
Taking it two steps further, in Game 3 on Tuesday night in St. Louis, Robertson has to face Carpenter, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, and in Wednesday night's Game 4, Bonderman goes against Suppan, who allowed only one run on five hits in 15-plus innings over two starts against the Mets and was named the NLCS MVP for his efforts.
"That doesn't mean it's a sign of bad things to come," Robertson said. "Our guys have backed each other up many times this season."
La Russa had no control over what might happen to Reyes, who left his bullpen short in last Sunday's Game 4 of the NLCS against the Mets in St. Louis, when he threw 86 pitches and came out after four innings in a game the Cardinals lost, 12-5.
Reyes threw only 90 pitches on Saturday night and lasted until the ninth inning, allowing just two runs on four hits.
"I hope the next three pitch as good as the first one," said La Russa, referring to the unexpected stellar outing from Reyes. "If we were going to win a game in New York, it would've been nice to win Game 6 [to wrap it up]. Anthony Reyes against Verlander in Detroit?
"You play the game, and that's the beauty of it. There's no script, and some day this might happen. But we thought we'd take a shot. Now we're not going to take anything for granted. We still know who we're playing and who we have to hit against the next three days."
Looking back to gaze forward, Robertson was shellacked by the Yankees in Game 1 of their American League Division Series. But Verlander, Rogers and Bonderman came up big in the series, as the Tigers came back to win in four games.
Verlander said on Saturday night he expects more of the same from his other three pitching mates. And if that happens, he'll be out there again in Game 5 against Reyes at Busch Stadium on Thursday.
"With the four starters we have, if one guys goes down, we have three others behind you who can pick up your back and do a great job," Verlander said. "That's the beauty of our team. We've done it all year -- our starting pitchers picking somebody up the day after."
If they don't, Leyland may rue his decision not to leave well enough alone and go with the rotation that got him here.