Too good to be true? Red Sox halfway home

Posted: Tuesday, October 26, 2004

ST. LOUIS Curt Schilling and the pitchers are clicking. Little Mark Bellhorn and the hitters are delivering. Manager Terry Francona is making all the right moves.

And despite a defense that can't quite seem to catch the ball, the Boston Red Sox are halfway to capturing something that's slipped just out of reach since 1918 the World Series trophy.

So with a 2-0 lead and Pedro Martinez set to make his Series debut against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night, could it really be this easy for the Red Sox?

Hah!

''We are not going to fall into the trap after winning the first two,'' reliever Alan Embree said. ''You saw what happened with the Yankees.''

Besides, Boston fans remember all too well what happened the last time the Red Sox reached the Series. After winning twice at Shea Stadium in 1986, they lost to the New York Mets in seven games.

Now on deck: a tantalizing treat for this oh-so-close club ... or a cruel trick.

''I think we have a pretty good perspective of what we're trying to do,'' Francona said before Monday's workout at Busch Stadium. ''If you're down, the task can get daunting. There's no reason to look at it differently if you're up 2-0.''

The Red Sox have already won six in a row in October matching their postseason high, set in 1915-16. It started with the stirring comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the AL championship series.

Then, before the World Series began, a curious little note appeared on the Green Monster. In small letters, someone had scribbled on Fenway Park's left-field wall: ''The Curse is Over!''

Game 3 starter Jeff Suppan and the Cardinals will have plenty to say about that. They're determined to force the Series back to Boston, perhaps for a Game 7 on Halloween night.

The Cardinals are 6-0 at Busch Stadium this postseason and certainly looked a lot crisper and more confident than they did in Boston. The last time they were home, Suppan outpitched Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the NL championship series.

''I think it's a big edge,'' manager Tony La Russa said Monday. ''Our fans make us excited.''

The Cardinals also gets a break because Boston loses the DH slot. David Ortiz will move to first base, probably knocking Kevin Millar out of the lineup, and Martinez will bat.

''I think as a matter of making a general statement, the National League club has the advantage. I think we're going to lose some of that because Pedro Martinez has pitched in the National League and is used to handling the bat,'' La Russa said.

''I think Ortiz has played first base before, but that's not his favorite position. But you can't try to hit ground balls to first,'' he said.

Suppan finished last season with the Red Sox, making their playoff roster for the ALCS but not getting to pitch against the Yankees. This season, he settled in nicely and led the Cardinals' staff with 16 wins.

Among the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez has done the best against Suppan, going 7-for-19 (.368) with three home runs against his former teammate.

''I wish I could go 0-for-40 in this Series and we win the next two games,'' Ramirez said.

One big hit certainly would help, particularly by Scott Rolen.

Rolen connected for the go-ahead home run that beat Clemens and the Houston Astros. Now, the All-Star third baseman is stuck in an 0-for-8 slump against Boston.

Rolen popped up with the bases loaded late in an 11-9 loss in the opener. He hit a line drive that almost knocked over third baseman Bill Mueller who later made three errors in the first inning Sunday night. He then came up in the eighth with St. Louis down 6-1 and runners at the corners and only managed a sacrifice fly.

The Cardinals are still waiting for Rolen, Larry Walker, Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds to contribute in the same game. Against Martinez, they might try the same approach the Yankees often take, making him throw a lot of pitches.

''I don't think you can actually go out there and control that 100 percent,'' La Russa said. ''You can't go out and run the count up, and take two strikes and follow with bunch of pitches. He'll put you away.''

While La Russa hopes to see a few timely hits, Francona would like to see a few more balls caught cleanly.

In setting a record for most errors in the first two games of a Series (eight), the Red Sox have dropped a popup and fly ball, skipped a throw into the stands, botched grounders and overrun a base hit.

''We made some errors. I didn't actually think we played a sloppy game,'' Francona said after Sunday night's 6-2 win. ''Maybe that sounds like I'm contradicting myself.

''The field was horrendous,'' he said. ''It's almost snowing out there.''

The forecast for St. Louis calls for temperatures in the mid-60s and maybe showers when Martinez takes the mound. The three-time Cy Young winner, who turned 33 on Monday, finally gets to start in the World Series after a 13-year career.

''I expect Pedro to pitch his fanny off,'' Francona said. ''I think he's got rest. I think he feels good about himself.''



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