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Updated: Wednesday, October 27, 2004 4:10 AM EDT
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ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Pedro Martinez has the Boston Red Sox on the verge of celebration. The St. Louis Cardinals are running scared.

Martinez allowed three hits in seven scoreless innings and the Red Sox capitalized on two key early outs on the basepaths for a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals in Game Three of the 100th World Series.

On the brink of elimination just over a week ago, the Red Sox have won seven straight postseason games and can clinch their first championship in 86 excruciating years with a win Wednesday.

Back home after dropping two games in Boston, St. Louis was hoping a return home would change its fortunes. But a pregame downpour and Manny Ramirez 's long first-inning homer left the 52,015 fans at Busch Stadium a bit flat.

The Cardinals got their fans back in it by loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning. With the red-clad spectators on their feet and looking for a reason to explode, slumping Jim Edmonds failed to come through, lofting a fly ball to shallow left field.

As the erratic Ramirez closed on the easy flyout, 37-year-old Larry Walker tagged and tried to score. Ramirez made a perfect throw just over the head of cut-off man Orlando Cabrera , who wisely let the ball go through. Walker was out by a step.

"That was a big play," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "I thought (catcher) Jason Varitek on the receiving end did a great job. Stood there nonchalantly and then put the tag on. ... It was a big boost for us, a great play."

With the air taken out of it on the damp night, the crowd did come to life two innings later when starter Jeff Suppan beat out an infield hit and took third on a double by Edgar Renteria .

Boston played its infield back to concede the tying run, and Walker bounced a grounder to second baseman Mark Bellhorn , who took a glance at Suppan and fired to first. Inconceivably, Suppan stopped roughly 15 feet off third base, then froze as first baseman David Ortiz caught the ball.

Ortiz, playing the field due to the lack of a designated hitter, threw a perfect strike to third, nailing Suppan. As the pitcher stumbled back into the bag, the collective groan of disbelief at Busch said it all.

"I was supposed to go on contact," Suppan admitted. "It was a situation where I just made a bad baserunning mistake."

"It was a very important momentum swing," Varitek said. "It stopped any momentum they were getting. They were really big plays."

Even though Suppan tried to regroup with teammates, including catcher Mike Matheny , he came unglued in the fourth, allowing a two-out RBI single to Trot Nixon . Suppan (0-1) started the fifth and allowed run-scoring singles to Ramirez and Bill Mueller before being pulled.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa lamented the missed opportunities.

"When you are in a championship competition, and the other team is playing well, you can't miss opportunities," La Russa said. "Jeff heard (third base coach Jose Oquendo) say, 'No, no,' and Jose was yelling, 'Go, go.' Men are not machines and it is a big miss ... You can't do that in championship competition."

If Martinez (1-0) was a bit shaky early, he was the picture of perfection late, retiring the last 14 batters he faced. In perhaps his final outing in a Red Sox uniform, the emotional righthander allowed two singles, a double and two walks.

"My teammates played some defense, that gave us a little bit of a break on that third-inning play," said Martinez, who struck out six. "And after that, I just used my experience and threw strikes and got them swinging."

"He was great," said Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen , who is hitless in the series. "We let him off the hook early a couple of times and then he settled in and started using his off-speed stuff real well. He threw great, he deserved tonight."

Martinez was treated to a series of hugs by his teammates just prior to being lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth.

Mike Timlin worked a perfect eighth and Keith Foulke got the final three outs in the ninth around a homer by Walker.

Suppan was tagged for four runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Remarkably, that was the longest outing by a St. Louis starter in the series.

"I had the stuff, but whenever I hung a pitch, they were able to hit it," Suppan said. "

Four relievers held the Red Sox in check the rest of the way, but the Cardinals' offense could not muster anything against Martinez.

"(Martinez's) changeup kept us off-balance," St. Louis left fielder Reggie Sanders said. "He was able to locate and throw the fastball for strikes."

Looking for the clincher, Boston turns to Derek Lowe , who closed out the stunning comeback against the New York Yankees with a win in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series.

The Cardinals seek to force a Game Five behind righthander Jason Marquis , who has lasted a combined 7 1/3 innings in two postseason starts.

If St. Louis is looking for an emotional lift, they need only look in the other dugout as Boston became the first team in baseball history to erase a 3-0 series deficit - doing so against the Yankees in the previous round.

"This team has been tough all year," Sanders added. "We really focus on what we have to focus on."

"We learned our lesson against the Yankees," Ramirez said. "We lost the first three games, and especially against a team like the Cardinals, they have such a great team that anything can happen here. We have to keep grinding it out."

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