CHICAGO • By the time he reached Wrigley Field's first-base dugout in full "look," there was no turning back.
Tony was back in the house.
Prodded by teammates who had strong-armed the coaching staff to let it happen, "Tony" popped from the dugout to carry Thursday's lineup card to home plate. The shades, the gait, the No. 10 jersey ... even the trademark deep dark hair was all in place.
Except it was really Kyle Lohse, not Tony La Russa.
The Cardinals pitcher offered his own tribute to the team's absent manager by pulling off an impressive pre-game impersonation that left players, umpires and, yes, coaches clapping and laughing.
"I was a little nervous. After I got down there, I couldn't say no to the peer pressure," Lohse said.
Lohse already had perfected the role in numerous clubhouse skits. But Thursday, as La Russa watched the game from St. Louis, Lohse took his act public over some initial objections by acting manager Joe Pettini.
"We as players lobbied pretty hard on his behalf," right fielder and resident funnyman Lance Berkman said. "I think we won the day."
La Russa is dealing with shingles, a painful affliction that manifested itself on the right side of his face. What might be construed as cruel humor in a more antiseptic environment represented his team's edgy show of affection and concern.
What some believed a wig was in truth Lohse fanning his hair over his ears. (He previously referred to it as Rally Hair.) From behind, the look was particularly convincing.
"My hair's getting out of control," Lohse remarked. "I realized when I didn't gel it up, I'd stick it over my ears, pull a hat on and you've got Tony."
Lohse donned La Russa's jersey in the cramped visitors' clubhouse and remained back in the tunnel during the anthem. There he encountered Dana DeMuth's umpiring crew and let them know what might be coming.
"They were cracking up down there. They thought it was funny," Lohse said.
If Lohse thought about turning back, his teammates weren't going to let him. Lohse returned to a dugout convulsed in laughter.
Concerned how the performance might be construed, Pettini initially balked about Lohse's tribute before relenting. Later on he and assistant athletic trainer Barry Weinberg later received text messages from an amused La Russa.
"I already got the text and I don't know who'll be managing tomorrow," Pettini quipped after his team captured the three-game series with a 9-1 win. "I think he got a kick out of it. I wasn't going to let that happen at first, but they all said Tony would get a kick out of it. And he did. He needed a laugh."
Lohse got the word second-hand. "He appreciated it. He appreciated the win more. But he liked the gesture."