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Mild Cards

Bad hitting, so-so pitching and dumb mistakes have befuddled St. Louis

Posted: Wednesday October 27, 2004 2:00AM; Updated: Wednesday October 27, 2004 2:00AM
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The Cardinals' sloppy play Tuesday night was almost too much for this fan to bear.

ST. LOUIS -- Somewhere between a fantastic win in the National League Championship Series and this horrific, disastrous, beast of a World Series they're in, the Cardinals took a wrong turn.

The best team in the NL, the team that won more games this season than any in all of baseball, now looks lost. They look confused. They look overmatched.

They look way, way overmatched.

What happened to these guys? What happened to the great lineup, the steady pitching, the smart, NL-style of ball?

What happened that brought these Cardinals, so good for so long this season, to the brink of a World Series sweep at the hands of a team that hasn't won a Series in 86 years?

"It's unfortunate," said Reggie Sanders, one of the few players who dared face the media after the Cardinals dropped Game 3 of the Series, 4-1, on Tuesday night to fall into an 0-3 hole. "It's unfortunate for us to be in this situation."

Unfortunate? Unfortunate? This isn't unfortunate. A cold sore is unfortunate. A scratch on the Benz is unfortunate. A dropped M&M is unfortunate.

This is a heck of a lot more than unfortunate. In St. Louis, this is darn near a tragedy. Othello is a comedy compared with what's happening with the Cards in this Series. Romeo and Juliet is Will & Grace.

The Cards looked terrible Tuesday, just gawdawful, and in just about every phase of the game. Things got so bad that their red-blooded, red-clad, red-in-the-face fans -- the supposed best fans in baseball, the fairest anywhere -- were booing their hometown team by the end of the third inning. Not everyone was booing. But there were enough disgusted Cardinals fans to be heard in the third ... and the fifth ... and the sixth.

Things got so sad for the Cardinals that their third baseman, Scott Rolen -- someone every player in baseball looks to as a solid citizen, a man who plays the game the right way, a stand-up guy -- was left to harangue the home plate umpire after striking out to end the game.

It was that kind of an evening for the Cards. It's been that kind of a Series.

They had the best lineup in the NL this season. In the Series, the Cards are hitting .208. The middle of their lineup -- Rolen, centerfielder Jim Edmonds and left fielder Sanders -- has a total of one hit in three games. One hit. And that was a bunt that Edmonds laid down in Game 1. If you're counting, those three are hitting a combined .032.

Tuesday, the Cardinals were held to four hits -- two infield singles, one by the pitcher, a double and a meaningless ninth-inning solo home run.

Their pitching -- no stars, they claimed, but four 15-game winners -- has been a little better than their hitting, but not much. Jeff Suppan was their stopper, the guy who was supposed to get them back in this Series. He allowed a homer to Manny Ramirez in the first inning. He gave up back-to-back two-out hits in the fourth inning that scored another run. He gave up four hits and two more runs in the fifth. He was gone after 4 2/3 innings.

And the rest of it? Larry Walker tried to score on a mid-range fly ball to left in the first inning, and Ramirez gunned him out at the plate for an inning-ending double play. And in the third, with the infield back conceding a run, Suppan didn't break for the plate when Walker grounded weakly to second, stood transfixed off the bag while Walker was thrown out at first, then got caught trying to scramble back to third base for the last out of the inning.

"I screwed up," Suppan said. "I thought I was moving. I'm not a fast runner. I don't know what else to say."

Awful hitting. So-so pitching. Dumb, dumb mistakes.

These are the National League champs?

Wednesday at Busch Stadium -- a place they hadn't lost this postseason, before Tuesday, and the site of their final stirring win in the NLCS -- the Cardinals will give it another try. In Game 4, they send out a pitcher, Jason Marquis, who has been hammered this postseason.

He needs to pitch like no one else on the Cards has pitched this postseason to avoid a Boston sweep. Somebody for the home team needs to start hitting. The Cards have to play harder. They have to play smarter.

If they don't ... well, if they don't, "unfortunate" won't begin to describe the Cards.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.