Tony La Russa isn’t just a terrific baseball manager, he’s also one of the sweetest guys on earth. When not covering up for Mark McGwire or saving puppies, the Cardinals’ resident genius is pulling rank to help keep Jimmy Rollins’ hitting streak alive.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury.

Rollins’ streak rose to 37 games after an eighth-inning double yesterday, one of the only bright spots in a dark, 13-5, opening-day loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Standing on second base and smiling, Rollins tipped his cap to what remained of the sellout crowd after doubling into the right-field corner.

The guy he should have acknowledged, though, was standing in the opposing dugout.

It wasn’t that long ago that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa used to watch in frustration as opposing teams pitched around slugger Mark McGwire.

He didn’t want to see that happen to Rollins as the Phillies’ leadoff man chased something special in a game that was all but decided.

There were two outs in the bottom of the eighth when Rollins came up. Anticipation hung in the air. Six months of hype had come down to one at-bat.

Ball one. No problem.

Ball two. The crowd booed.

Ball three. More boos.

That was enough for La Russa. He got the attention of catcher Yadier Molina and made a universal hand signal for “What the #$%&*@ is going on? Throw a fastball down the middle and see if this guy can hit it.”

Wainwright threw a strike and Rollins – you didn’t really think he’d take it? – hammered it past a diving Albert Pujols at first base.

Adam Wainwright threw a curveball, a change-up and a fastball in going 3-0 on Rollins. He clearly wasn’t trying to walk him. But kudos to La Russa, anyway, for standing up and essentially ordering a strike.

“You have to play the game,” La Russa said afterward. “A hitting streak. That’s part of the game. We can’t walk him in that spot.

“Some of it is [Rollins]. But most of it is us, the St. Louis Cardinals. I wouldn’t want us to be the team that walked him in his last at-bat and took it away from him.”