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Posted: Thursday October 28, 2004 3:12AM; Updated: Thursday October 28, 2004 3:12AM
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Albert Pujols went down quietly in key situations, such as his strikeout in the fourth inning.
AP

By Albert Chen, SI.com

Turning Point
Bathed in champagne, Theo Epstein stood in a corner of the visitor's clubhouse and gazed across the room.

"As a team, we had no weaknesses," Epstein said. "And I don't mean that in any cocky way."

Indeed, the Red Sox showcased an all-around excellence in the World Series. The Cardinals' futility, meanwhile, was all-encompassing: bad starting pitching, bad bullpen work, bad defense, bad baserunning, bad situational hitting. The biggest -- and most astonishing -- failure of the Cardinals, however, was the collective ineptitude of their big middle-of-the-order sluggers who were so feared during the regular season. The Cardinals' fourth inning was representative of the series. Trailing 3-0, the meat of the Cardinals' order came to the plate, but Derek Lowe sat down Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, and Scott Rolen on just nine pitches. For the series, the threesome of Pujols, Rolen, and Jim Edmonds were 6-for-45 with one RBI.

While Red Sox hitters wore down St. Louis starters all series with their patience -- Jason Marquis logged 72 pitches in his first three innings -- Cardinals hitters did little to make life difficult for Boston pitchers. (In 17 2/3 of collective work, Cardinals starters surrendered 13 walks.) Not until the 5th inning did Lowe throw more than 10 pitches.

"Their pitchers did a great job," Albert Pujols said after the game. "They didn't always have their best stuff and I think they were tired at this point of the season, but they made the right pitches when they had to. You just have to tip your hat."

From the Bench
Tony La Russa has been criticized all season long about not playing more small ball, but Larry Walker's bunt in the first inning with Tony Womack on first base and no one out raised eyebrows. "He had the third baseman over, and that was a bunt for base hit," explained La Russa after the game. "He was trying to bunt the ball down the third base line, he does it very well. We definitely weren't sacrificing there. If you hit a line-drive single, everybody shakes your hand if it's there. Hits a line drive to center, left, it's first and second. It was a line drive left, it just didn't get to the line." ... La Russa made several changes in his lineup in Game 4 to jump start the offense. He moved the hurting Tony Womack back to leadoff and started John Mabry in left field and Yadier Molina at catcher over Reggie Sanders and Mike Matheny, respectively. Mabry and Molina were a combined 0-for-5. ... Francona handled his bullpen flawlessly throughout the series. Red Sox relievers allowed four earned runs in the four games. "[Francona] did a fantastic job," said Epstein. ... Francona on his team's ability to silence St. Louis' lineup: "I thought we had a great scouting report, very in-depth. Great pitching coach. And I got to say two great catchers, that took the time to go over the reports and pass them on. But what it comes down to is having really, really good pitchers, follow the game plan and are able to follow it. And the other thing is sometimes a short series, when you catch guys at a the right time, and again, we won tonight."

Clubhouse Confidential
In the clubhouse, freshly-minted World Series MVP Manny Ramirez was asked who he was most happy for. "Pedro," he said without blinking. "He's been through so many ups and downs. I'm so happy for him." ... Said Epstein after the game, "If there's something this team is going to be good at, it's celebrating." The biggest World Series moment, in Epstein's opinion? "Bellhorn's home run off Pesky Pole." ... Rolen finished hitless, 0-for-15, in the series. "As a boy you grow up dreaming of playing in the World Series," Rolen said after the game, "and when you're in the backyard tossing and hitting the ball around, you get more than a hit out there. It's very disappointing." Was Rolen's lingering calf injury the reason for his struggles? "I think physically his calf is bothering him some," La Russa said before Game 4, "but he's definitely playable, he's definitely better than he was when he started playing."

Bottom Line
Aside from the futility of St. Louis' big sluggers, the story of the series was the Red Sox hitters' domination of St. Louis starters, who were vastly overmatched. St. Louis starter Woody Williams explained it well before Game 4. "I think bottom line is they're a very patient hitting ballclub," said Williams. " For whatever reason we've thrown pretty good breaking balls out of the strike zone, and they've been laying off those, and the ones we throw that aren't so good they're putting a good strike on. We have to make them continually try to hit our pitch, but we haven't had that success yet. And as a pitching staff all year, we haven't walked that many guys, and here we are, we're walking everyone. Every time you do that, you give a team of the Red Sox caliber extra innings."

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