Martinez, Sox just a win away, 4-1

Cards self-destruct on bases as Red Sox take 3-0 lead, close in on first crown since 1918

World Series

Game 4: Today, 8:25 P.m., Chs. 45, 5

October 27, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS - The 100th World Series could end tonight, and if so, it's hard to predict which will be more memorable: The sight of the Boston Red Sox hoisting the trophy for the first time since 1918, or the images of this year's best team imploding when it mattered most.

The St. Louis Cardinals led the majors with 105 wins this season, and now it will take four straight to prevent a Boston title.

Last night in Game 3, the Cardinals looked eager to get it over with, as they flailed away at Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez and twice ran themselves off the bases in a 4-1 Boston victory before 52,015 at Busch Stadium.

The Red Sox got a first-inning home run from Manny Ramirez and built a four-run lead by the fifth inning against St. Louis starter Jeff Suppan, whose shortcomings on the mound paled next to his third-inning gaffe on the bases.

That play may go down in Cardinals' lore as Suppan's Blunder.

And it just stood there because the Cardinals were too hapless and helpless to come back. Their lone run came on Larry Walker's ninth-inning home run against Boston closer Keith Foulke.

Now, St. Louis is staring at the same 3-0 deficit the Red Sox had in the American League Championship Series. Of the 26 major league teams who have faced that hole, Boston was the only team to climb out of it.

"It shows it's possible," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Boston's comeback against the New York Yankees. "I think the one thing I'm absolutely confident about is that we've come too far to give an effort that will embarrass anybody [tonight]."

For Game 4, it will be Boston's Derek Lowe against the Cardinals' Jason Marquis.

"They're a great team, and we don't expect expect them to lay down for us," Lowe said.

But clearly, the Cardinals' confidence has sagged. They have yet to lead in this series, and an offense that led the National League with a .278 average this season was reduced to three hits in seven innings against Martinez.

Had that happened last year, no one would have blinked. But this isn't the same Martinez who won three Cy Young Awards earlier in his career. He turned 33 on Monday, and last night he didn't throw a pitch harder than 93 mph.

This was more like Pedro Lite.

In four previous appearances this postseason, including three starts and a bizarre seventh-inning relief appearance at Yankee Stadium in Game 7, Martinez was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA.

The Cardinals have baseball's latest version of Murderers' Row, with Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds.

Last night, it was more like Mulligans' Row, as that foursome combined to go 1-for-10 with two walks against Martinez. For the series, Rolen is hitless in 11 at-bats, and Edmonds is batting .091.

Limited as they've been offensively, the Cardinals figured they could still rely on the tenets that got them here: sound pitching, sound defense and smart base running.

But so far their three starting pitchers - Suppan, Woody Williams and Matt Morris - have combined to give up 15 runs on 20 hits in 11 1/3 innings.

Last night, they had two runners thrown out between third base and home plate.

They loaded the bases in the first inning against Martinez, with a single and a pair of walks, and it looked like they had him on the ropes.

But Edmonds hit a fly ball to shallow left field, and Ramirez made a charging catch. After hesitating a bit, Walker sprinted home. Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo said the only reason he sent Walker was because Pujols had strayed too far off second base, essentially pushing Walker off third.

"I wasn't going to send [Walker]," Oquendo said, "so I told him, `Halfway.' "

The throw from Ramirez beat Walker by several feet for a double play. Backing up the play behind home plate, Martinez gently spanked Walker with his glove, one former Montreal Expo acknowledging another.

Still, no matter how deflating that play was, Suppan's crusher came later.

The third inning started so promisingly for St. Louis. Suppan reached on an infield hit, and then Edgar Renteria doubled, putting runners at second and third with no outs. The next batter, Walker, did exactly what he's supposed to do in that situation, hitting a grounder to the right side of the infield.

With the Red Sox conceding the run, second baseman Mark Bellhorn was on the right-field grass. Inexplicably, Suppan froze instead of running home.

"I really don't know how to describe it," Suppan said. "I screwed up. Period."

After taking Bellhorn's throw, first baseman David Ortiz fired to third base in time to nab a retreating Suppan. It was another double play.

"He could have walked home," Oquendo said.

Instead of having a tie score, with a runner on third and one out, St. Louis still trailed 1-0 with a runner on second and two outs. The cameras quickly panned to La Russa, who stood there with his head down for an extended moment, his red hat shielding his red face.

"On that play, it was an easy read," La Russa said. "They had the infield way back, and Jeff heard `No, no!' and Jose was yelling, `Go, go!'

"Men are not machines, so it's a big miss because Larry did the right thing - hit the ball to the right side. You can't do that in championship competition."

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