Martinez and Red Sox close in, 4-1

Pitcher gives Boston 3-0 lead over Cards, puts Sox one win from first title 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 anxious to get this over with, as they flailed away at Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez and 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 their four-run lead by the fifth inning against St. Louis starter Jeff Suppan.

Facing Martinez, the Cardinals were too helpless and hapless to come back. Their only run came on Larry Walker's ninth-inning homer against Red Sox 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.

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

Clearly, the Cardinals' confidence has sagged. They have yet to lead in this series.

This team that led the National League with a .278 average was reduced to three hits in seven innings against Martinez, who retired the last 14 hitters in a row.

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 of the ALCS, 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. It was more like Mulligan's Row last night, as that foursome combined to go 1-for-10 with two walks against Martinez.

That's been a recurring theme the whole series. The Cardinals haven't been able to count on their big sluggers, like Boston has.

Manny Ramirez gave the Red Sox their third first-inning lead of the Series, when he hit a two-out home run off Suppan. It was the 18th career postseason home run for Ramirez, moving him into second on the all-time list.

Ramirez has hit in all 13 of Boston's postseason games this year, and 16 straight dating back to last year. Hank Bauer and Derek Jeter share the all-time record with postseason hitting streaks of 17.

Ramirez was ridiculed for his defense in Game 1, when he had two errors in the same inning, but he also came up with a big play last night.

The Cardinals thought they had Martinez on the ropes in the first inning, as a pair of walks and a single loaded the bases with one out.

But Edmonds hit a fly ball to shallow left field, and Ramirez charged in for a running catch. After hesitating a bit - perhaps because he was eyeballing Pujols who had strayed too far off second base - Walker sprinted home.

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

Still, however unsound the Cardinals had looked to that point in the series, it paled in comparison to the third inning, when they pulled their worst move yet. It started so promisingly.

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, they had second baseman Mark Bellhorn playing on the right-field grass. Inexplicably, Suppan froze instead of running home. After taking Bellhorn's throw, first baseman David Ortiz fired to third base in time to nab a retreating Suppan.

Another double play. 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 Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who stood there with his head down for an extended moment, his red hat shielding his red face.

Against the powerful Red Sox lineup, Suppan had little time to sulk, and Boston quickly started pulling away.

Trot Nixon hit a two-out RBI single in the fourth inning, and the Red Sox added two more runs in the fifth, as Ramirez and Bill Mueller each had RBI singles.

Trailing 4-0, La Russa yanked Suppan, who allowed four runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Sadly, it still rated as the Cardinals' top starting pitching performance in the Series.

Suppan, Woody Williams and Matt Morris have combined to give up 15 runs on 20 hits in 11 1/3 innings.

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