Soaking it all up tough for Cards

Cardinals vs. Red Sox World Series Game 1: Boston 11, St. Louis 9 Game 2: Today, 8:10 P.M., Chs. 45, 5

October 24, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

BOSTON - This city has its priorities: Red Sox, Red Sox, Red Sox, the Patriots, Ben Affleck, and, occasionally, an autumnal regatta.

That peculiarly Bostonian pastime, taking place this October weekend on the Charles River, left the St. Louis Cardinals to find their World Series lodging all the way out in Quincy.

So much for authentic World Series atmosphere.

For that, the Cards will have to make do by enduring three-run blasts by David Ortiz and game-winning homers by Mark Bellhorn, just like last night, when the Red Sox came out swinging and then held on to win the opener, 11-9.

For the Cards, there will be no wee hours of consolation at the Copley Square hotel at which Ted Williams used to hang, no conciliatory steaks at the Capital Grille or a quiet morning of recuperative reading at the grand Boston Public Library.

"How would I know how the city is? They've got us staying about a half an hour away," Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds said.

Yup, in this town, 7,000 rowers and the occasional coxswain got hotel priority over the National League representatives to the first World Series at Fenway since 1986.

It's sort of like the Yankees-Red Sox being billed as the only LCS that really mattered, until it was over. Only then did the spotlight fall on the Astros-Cardinals for their Game 7, as if by default.

"Hey, prime time, big markets. It was fun to watch," Cardinals outfielder John Mabry said about the all-consuming ALCS.

While the Cardinals may appear laissez-faire about their subordinate role in this World Series, anyone with an East Coast bias might easily mistake the Cardinals' quiet, unassuming professionalism as a cultural indicator of Midwestern blandness.

No Cowboy Up.

No Idiots.

No one wearing "What Would Johnny Damon Do?" T-shirts at Busch Stadium.

Jesus jokes just don't play as well in some parts of the country, and the Cardinals know who they are, even if they commenced this World Series accepting their role as Accidental Tourists.

They are the team whose World Series' pain and yearning is the stuff to inspire a measured, professional quest.

The Cardinals have nine World Series titles, second only to the now-vacationing New York Yankees, who have 26, but none, we like to point out, in the past four years.

The Cardinals have been looking for title No. 10 since they won their last Series in 1982 and looking to get back to the Fall Classic since 1987, when they lost in seven games to the Twins.

That's in direct contrast to the Cardinals' scruffy, hell-bent-on-defying-history hosts here for games 1 and 2.

For Red Sox Nation, whose masses washed into Fenway last night like endless Atlantic waves rolling onto the Cape Cod sand, this World Series thing is an obsession unlike anything else in baseball.

"I think the atmosphere in St. Louis is a little more congenial," said Jim Hoffmann, a St. Louis resident and one of the few Cardinals fans in the ballpark last night.

"When we were walking down the street toward [Fenway] in our Cardinal hats, we got booed. That wouldn't happen in St. Louis," Hoffmann said.

His friend and fellow Cardinals fan, Bill Bolster, put it more succinctly:

"The two cities are just as passionate. At the end of the day, St. Louis is a baseball town just like Boston, even when the Rams are winning the Super Bowl," Bolster said.

"The difference is, Boston has a little more edge. I think it has to do with the 86 years."

Even in the Midwest, that's what's known as a zinger.

Part of the reason the '86, '75, '67 and '46 World Series losses induced such suicidal tendencies is that with each demoralizing failure, the needy well grew deeper.

"The history here, the fans, the organization, it's a lot like St. Louis," said Matt Morris, the Cardinals' Game 2 starter, adding, "But I think with a deeper hole to fill."

A deeper hole to fill.

Another zinger. Ouch.

It might be stating the obvious for the Cardinals to point out that the Red Sox are trying not just to win four baseball games, but heal an 86-year-old scar.

The Cardinals - clean-cut, steady, unflappable - have the privilege of perspective on that significant point of difference.

Besides, the Cardinals were at Fenway for a three-game series in June 2003, winning two of three. Manager Tony La Russa was happy for the Series tuneup.

"If we end up winning, I think the fact we played here in interleague play last year gives some feeling," he said.

"But, you know, this is Fenway. The fans are all around you. They are very, very close -- closer than most places. It's an exciting atmosphere. I think our players, I tell them, enjoy it, look around once in a while, but pay attention to playing the game."

Boston's passion may be similar to St. Louis' passion for baseball. The pasts that fuel that passion are different, which might give the Cards the edge in confidence.

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