Home plate umpire Brian Gorman watches as Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek reaches to tag out St. Louis Cardinals Larry Walker to end the first inning during Game 3 of the World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004.
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
ST. LOUIS Only a curse can stop the Boston Red Sox now.
And they know all about such things.
With their baseball stars and lucky stars aligned, the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 Tuesday night and moved within one win of their first World Series championship since 1918.
Then again, historic collapses are part of their legend.
No one knows better than the Red Sox that a 3-0 lead can be overcome; they just did it to the New York Yankees. And no one knows better than the Red Sox how elusive that last win can be; four times they've been one win away and four times they've lost.
''We're not going to relax that much,'' Boston starter Pedro Martinez said. ''I don't think our team's going to relax as much as the Yankees were.''
Martinez made his long-awaited Series debut a special one, bailed out when Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz did as much damage with their arms as bats. Backed by the surprising show of defense, Boston made it look too easy.
''It is big, but we learned our lesson against the Yankees,'' Ramirez said.
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan reacts after Boston Red Sox's Bill Mueller singled and scored Orlando Cabrera in the fifth inning during Game 3 of the World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004. Suppan was relieved by Al Reyes.
AP Photo/Al Behrman
So after being only three outs away from getting swept last week, Boston is on the verge of sweeping the club that led the majors in wins this year and claiming the ultimate prize.
''It's something you've got to notice. It's possible,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ''Hard not to get discouraged. They didn't.
''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 tomorrow,'' he said.
Derek Lowe will try to finish it off for Boston on Wednesday night, starting against Jason Marquis in Game 4.
''We don't want people to think this Series is over,'' Lowe said.
Still, Red Sox fans gathered around the Boston dugout and chanted ''One more win! One more win!'' after the final out. Meanwhile, this sign curiously was posted on a side scoreboard at Busch Stadium: ''Thanks for a great 2004 season.''
Pitching a day after his 33rd birthday, Martinez threw seven innings of shutout ball, holding the limp Cardinals to three hits and retiring his last 14 batters.
''He has a history of being pretty good,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
Boston Red Sox' Pokey Reese, left, hugs Manny Ramirez after the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 in Game 3 of the World Series Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004, in St. Louis.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Ramirez put Martinez ahead with a first-inning homer and the three-time Cy Young Award winner held it, helped by superb defense and shaky baserunning. Added up, the Red Sox set a team record with their seventh straight postseason win, bettering the streak of six capped off by Babe Ruth's win in the 1916 Series.
That Martinez won was hardly amazing. That Boston's defense contributed was downright shocking.
The Red Sox made eight errors and still won the first two games. This time, they were flawless in the field and maybe even better than that.
Ramirez, coming off two gaffes in Game 2, threw out Larry Walker at the plate from left field to end the first inning. The lumbering Ortiz, in the lineup because Boston did not have the DH slot, alertly caught losing pitcher Jeff Suppan later.
''I was really happy to see Manny, not even thinking about what happened at Fenway,'' Martinez said.
Combined with a couple of more two-out runs, the Red Sox were home free.
Ramirez was the MVP of the first inning, by far.
After getting some pine tar from the top of his gooey batting helmet, he hit a solo home run with two outs into the loge level in left field.
But Ramirez's arm hurt St. Louis even more in the bottom half.
A pair of walks wrapped around a slow-rolling single by Albert Pujols loaded the bases with one out, and the ballpark hoped for something big. With the crowd standing and the stadium organ pumping, catcher Jason Varitek made his second trip to the mound to visit Martinez.
Edmonds lofted a fly ball to shallow left and Walker decided to make a run for it, but Ramirez was equal to the challenge and made an accurate throw home. Varitek did his part with a decoy, standing as if there was no play before suddenly catching the ball and slapping on the tag.
Martinez pumped his fist, then gave a nice-try pat on the back to Walker, his old teammate from their Montreal days.
Ahead 1-0, Boston did it again with defense in the third.
Suppan started it with a swinging-bunt single and Edgar Renteria hit a double that sent Nixon sliding feet first into a warning track puddle, a pratfall right out of a Wet&Wild Ride&Slide.
Again the crowd came to its feet, sensing the big hit that St. Louis needed. Walker instead rapped a weak grounder to second baseman Mark Bellhorn, which should have easily been enough to advance the runners and score the tying run.
With third-base coach Jose Oquendo urging him to run, Suppan made a quick break for the plate and then stopped while Renteria took off for third. Ortiz caught Bellhorn's throw, took a second and then noticed the Cardinals' confusion on the bases.
Ortiz made a perfect throw across the diamond to nail Suppan, and a grounder by Pujols ended the inning and brought out the boos.
''Jeff heard, 'No, no' and Jose, he was yelling, 'Go, go,''' La Russa said.
Bill Mueller and Nixon hit consecutive doubles with two outs in the fourth, and Boston scored twice in the fifth for a 4-0 lead.
Ramirez singled home a run and Mueller later chased Suppan with an RBI single. At that point, 10 of Boston's 20 runs in the Series had come with two outs.
St. Louis' lone run was a homer by Walker off Keith Foulke in the ninth inning.
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