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October 27, 2004
Man, the Cardinals could have used some rain.
Instead, they got Pedro Martinez, who showed up with 1984 hair and 1999 stuff to push the 2004 season to the brink. Martinez, who'd thrown just one inning since last Monday, tossed seven shutout innings against the best offense in the National League this year, showing once again that he's as good as ever given ample recovery time.
Martinez was aided by Manny Ramirez, who had a monster home run, an RBI single and a baserunner kill that ended a first-inning rally.
Martinez and Ramirez have two of the legacy contracts for the previous CBA era, and made a combined $37.9 million in 2004. You think anyone in Boston is concerned about that this morning? The players could move the decimal point to the right and probably find a taker.
What's amazing is how close this game was to going the other way. Twice in the first three innings, the Cardinals had rallies going, only to see runners thrown out on the bases to end the drama. In the first, the Cards had loaded the bases against Martinez with one out, drawing two walks wrapped around an infield single. Jim Edmonds flied to short left field, and Larry Walker, no doubt familiar with the work of Ramirez, elected to tag up on the play. He was out by five feet, rescuing Martinez from the frame.
What was funny about the play is that Ramirez actually made a mistake, even in throwing out the runner. Albert Pujols appeared to lose track of the number of outs, and was about 2/3 of the way to third base when Ramirez caught the ball. The shorter throw to second base would have yielded an easy out.
The bigger play, maybe the one on which this World Series hinges, came in the third. Jeff Suppan led off with an infield single, and Edgar Renteria one-hopped the wall in right field for a double to give the Cards second and third with no one out and their best hitters coming up. A tied game seemed a given, and a lead likely. The Sox played their infield back, conceding the tying run with Walker at the plate.
Walker grounded to second, where Mark Bellhorn, positioned almost on the outfield grass, made the routine play. Suppan, however, failed to rush home, even through the Sox were conceding the run, and even though the ball was hit nearly to the outfield. He hesitated, then started down the line, but by that time, David Ortiz had the ball. Ortiz, whose defensive skill was the subject of much of the buildup to the game, fired over to Bill Mueller for the tag on Suppan.
It was a horrible baserunning play, only marginally excusable for the fact that Suppan is a pitcher. If you missed the chance to run home--really, he could have jogged home--that's one thing, but to compound the mistake by getting caught off the bag, indecisive, and provide the Red Sox with a desperately needed baserunner kill was an egregious gaffe.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Suppan's play cost the Cardinals the game. However, given the break, Martinez did not allow another baserunner before leaving after seven innings, and only Walker's one-out home run in the ninth kept the Cardinals from making 21 straight outs after Renteria's double. You only get so many chances against a very good pitcher; the Cardinals got two, squandered them, and will now effectively play out the string.
Up 3-0, the Sox find themselves in the same position their nemeses were in nine days ago. The difference now, of course, is that no one can say, "never" anymore, and I think that affects how we look at the situation. Even though the likelihood of a team overcoming a 3-0 deficit isn't any different than it was last week, we view it differently because it actually happened. Maybe that's a fallacy, I don't know, but I certainly don't think you'll see anyone write off the Cardinals with quite the same fervor as the Sox were being buried after Game 3 of the ALCS.
The Sox can do a few things that would mark their title as being particularly special in baseball history. They've tied the record for longest winning streak in one postsesaon at seven (1995 Atlanta Braves, 1976 Cincinnati Reds), and would set the record with a win tonight. They have a chance to be just the third team to go through the World Series without ever trailing, following the 1989 A's and the 1963 Dodgers.
Will those things happen? Perhaps, although I have to say that I would be shocked to see the Cardinals go down in four games. Tonight's matchup is run-friendly; Jason Marquis hasn't pitched well in just over a month, since he threw seven good innings in, of all places, Denver. Derek Lowe made one passable and one excellent start in the ALCS, after a season in which he was beaten like a drum. It's anyone's guess which version of Lowe will show up tonight, just as it was nearly all season long.
These two teams scored 20 runs in Game One, then just 12 over the next two games. Tonight's game will look more like Saturday's; I'd be surprised if both starters made it through the fifth, and not at all if neither did so.
As a baseball fan, I want one more day. I'm not ready for the winter just yet.