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What's a 5-letter word for 'embarrassed?' Cards

Posted: Thursday October 28, 2004 12:23AM; Updated: Thursday October 28, 2004 1:05AM

  Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols and the best-hitting team in the National League never led the Red Sox in any of the four games.

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The sign at Busch Stadium pleaded: "Will the real Cardinals report and play?"

The answer in Game 4, just as in the first three games, was emphatic: No!

"They outplayed us in every category," manager Tony La Russa said. "So it ended up not being a terrific competition. We survived two playoffs, so it's a huge disappointment."

The team that led the major leagues with 105 victories and had the National League's best offense and second-best pitching staff, fell flat on its face in the World Series in a stunning sweep by the Boston Red Sox. The lineup was littered with historically bad performances at the plate, most notably by their trio of MVP candidates.

"I don't think they pitched us tough, we just hit some balls good and they made some good plays. ... That's the way it goes," Albert Pujols said.

"What can you do? It's over."

And, before Jason Marquis gutted out six innings in a 3-0 Game 4 loss on Wednesday night, St. Louis had gotten very little out of its rotation. He was the first starter to last long enough to qualify for a victory: The three who preceded him lasted a total of 11 2-3 innings and allowed 15 runs.

Cardinals pitchers allowed at least one run in the first inning of all four games. St. Louis was dominated so completely, it never even led once.

"It's amazing," said Woody Williams, the Game 1 loser. "We were talking about that on the bench: Let's get one lead and see what happens. But it never happened."

The Cardinals waited 17 years between World Series trips, only to go home with a dubious distinction: Only one team had more victories before getting swept, the 1954 Indians, who were 114-43 before losing to the New York Giants.

"It's hard to believe," shortstop Edgar Renteria said. "It's true."

The wait was nearly as long for La Russa. Maybe it was even more gut-wrenching on a personal level, considering that in his last shot at the championship in 1990 his heavily favored Oakland Athletics got swept by the Cincinnati Reds.

But the team will remember the good things, too. Before the season, the Cardinals were generally thought of as the third-best team in the NL Central.

"We had a great season, and beat two tough teams to get here," said Bill DeWitt Jr., the team's general partner and chairman of the board. "Whoever you play in the World Series is going to be a great team, and we caught a great team that was hot.

"They won their last eight games, and when you get on a roll like that it's hard to stop."

St. Louis went quietly, tiptoeing off the stage. The Cardinals scored one run in the last two games at home, where they had been 6-0 in the postseason, and were a woeful 4-for-28 with runners in scoring position in the Series.

The life seemed drained out of the Cardinals after their most forgettable play of the Series, pitcher Jeff Suppan's freeze-up between third and home with one out in the third inning of Game 3. Instead of tying the score at 1 on a run that the Red Sox had been conceding, Suppan ran into a double play.

They never recovered.

Starting with that at-bat, the Cardinals reached base on only seven times in 54 plate appearances the remainder of the Series, with a homer, a double, three singles and two walks against a Red Sox staff that was considered far from dominant. They advanced only four runners into scoring position in Game 4, when Boston starter Derek Lowe retired 13 in a row at one point.

It seemed it was shaping up as a sluggers' series after the Red Sox's 11-9 victory in Game 1. After that, the Cardinals scored just three runs.

Cleanup hitter Scott Rolen, second in the NL with 124 RBIs, was 0-for-15 with one RBI. He finished the year in a 12-for-75 skid after coming back from a strained left calf in mid-September.

No. 5 hitter Jim Edmonds, who hit 42 homers and had a career-best 111 RBIs, was 1-for-15. Reggie Sanders was 0-for-9 with five strikeouts before getting benched in favor of John Mabry in Game 4. Mabry continued that trend, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

Pujols and Larry Walker had their moments, but never with any support from the rest of the offense. Walker was 4-for-5 in Game 1 and homered for the Cardinals' lone run in Game 3. Pujols had three of St. Louis' five hits in Game 2.

Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds were horrible in the clutch, going a combined 1-for-12. None of them got a chance for redemption in Game 4.

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

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