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Postseason depression

Suddenly, powerhouse Cardinals one game away from being swept

Posted: Wednesday October 27, 2004 12:11AM; Updated: Wednesday October 27, 2004 1:17AM

  Tony La Russa
So far, Tony La Russa's Cardinals have hardly looked like the team that won 105 games this season.

  -- ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Tony La Russa grimaced, then pulled the bill of his cap down low.

Pitcher Jeff Suppan somehow got hung up between third base and home, turning an easy run into an excruciating double play in the third inning of the St. Louis Cardinals' 4-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series on Tuesday night.

The team with the best record in baseball ran itself out of an early chance to get at Pedro Martinez and climb back into the series -- and their manager was embarrassed. Now, the Cardinals are about to get run out of the postseason.

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

La Russa said Suppan had a mixup with third-base coach Jose Oquendo.

"When you're in a championship competition, and the other team is playing well, you can't make mistakes," La Russa said. "Jeff heard 'No, no,' and Jose, he was yelling, 'Go, go.' So men are not machines, and it's a big miss."

After piling up 105 victories and beating Los Angeles and Houston in the playoffs to reach the World Series for the first time in 17 years, the Cardinals are a team on the brink -- one loss away from being swept by the Red Sox. They've looked lost and confused, even bumbling at times. They even heard some rare boos from the red-clad faithful.

"For the most part, we haven't been the Cardinals that everybody is used to seeing," outfielder Reggie Sanders said. "We have to bring out all the guns tomorrow."

The Cardinals are in exactly the same spot the Red Sox were a little more than a week ago, down 3-0 and looking hopeless. Boston somehow rallied against the New York Yankees, but no team has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win the World Series.

But they're not done yet.

"Anything can happen in baseball," Sanders said. "Anything can turn around. That's what we're believing in."

St. Louis is in a tight spot mostly due to a combination of lousy starting pitching and poor clutch hitting.

The Cardinals are the first team since the 1989 San Francisco Giants to go the first three games without a starter lasting long enough to qualify for a victory -- five innings.

Suppan held hitters to a .154 average in the playoffs before getting knocked out in the fifth inning Tuesday night, following the shaky leads of Woody Williams and Matt Morris in the first two games. The three combined to go 42-27 in the regular season, but together have lasted 11 2-3 innings and given up 15 runs.

Suppan was better than the first two, though, and the bullpen shut out Boston the rest of the game.

"Why are we talking about the pitching?" pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "We gave up four runs to a tremendously potent offensive club."

St. Louis' most dominant pitcher, Chris Carpenter, isn't on the roster after sustaining nerve damage to his right biceps Sept. 18. That could've changed the complexion of the series.

Instead, the Cardinals have been playing catchup from the first inning of each game. The Red Sox scored four runs in the first off Williams in Game 1, two off Morris in Game 2 and got a home run from Manny Ramirez in Game 3 off Suppan.

Jason Marquis will get the ball to try to salvage the season. He's been a disappointment thus far in the postseason, allowing six runs in 7 1-3 innings in his two starts, but he's coming off a career-best 15-win season.

And he seemed pretty calm after the Game 3 loss.

"I'm going to approach it like any other start," Marquis said. "I'm going out and taking the ball and trying to win, and I'm going to stick to my game plan."

St. Louis' trio of MVP candidates -- Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds -- has been quiet in the World Series, going a combined 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

Suppan's baserunning blunder, which occurred when the Red Sox were conceding a run, wasn't the first on the basepaths for the Cardinals. In Game 2, Sanders missed second base to help kill a potentially productive second inning.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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