What we have here is either a poodle of a World Series or the setup for the craziest end to the wildest postseason story in baseball history.
The Cardinals ran themselves out of two potential early rallies Tuesday night before Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez put a hammerlock on them through the seventh inning, and Boston won Game 3 of the World Series 4-1, stunning a big St. Louis crowd into morose silence and putting the Cards in a predicament that no team has ever escaped -- except these Red Sox.
This Series figured to be a corker, with two offensive powerhouses pounding out runs into the late innings and the wee hours every night. Now Boston leads 3-0, and while the fresh memory of the Sox's once-in-a-lifetime comeback from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series is making everyone a little gunshy about saying so, the denouement is looking like a formality at this point.
Yes, we always knew such comebacks were possible, but now that we've seen it with our own eyes we can really feel the possibility in our bones. And after all, these are the Red Sox, who are such geniuses at losing they have their own shorthand for it: 1918, 1986, Babe Ruth, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, Aaron Boone.
But the funny thing about once-in-a-lifetime events is that they're called "once in a lifetime" for a reason. And aside from all this angels-in-the-outfield stuff, the Red Sox are just looking like a far better team than the Cardinals.
Like the Sox, the Cards lost three in a row in the League Championship Series, dropping the middle three games in Houston after winning the first two at home. Two of the three losses for both teams were tense affairs that could have gone the other way with a timely hit here, a lucky bounce there. Only the Yankees' 19-8 shellacking of the Sox in Game 3 and the Astros' 3-0 whitewash of the Cards in Game 5 were beatdowns.
That's not the case here. The Cardinals are just getting whacked. Their big hitters aren't hitting, their starting pitchers aren't pitching and, in a new twist in Game 3, even their baserunners are blundering.
In the first inning St. Louis loaded the bases with one out on two walks and an infield hit. Jim Edmonds hit a shallow fly to left that was caught by Manny Ramirez. Larry Walker tagged and tried to score. Ramirez, an adventure in left, as he showed when he turned a sliding catch into a tumbling error in Game 1, does make the routine plays. This was routine in the extreme. Ramirez threw out Walker easily for an inning-ending double play.
The real goat on the play for the Cardinals was Albert Pujols, who had wandered about 70 feet off of second before finally starting his retreat. Walker, who had been playing it halfway, went back to tag figuring that Pujols would easily be doubled off of second, and a throw to the plate would be tougher for Ramirez to make. Still, the smart play for Walker would have been to bluff home, forcing the throw and allowing Pujols time to get back.
Ramirez had a nice night all around, homering in the first and driving in a run in the fifth with a single. Trot Nixon and Bill Mueller drove in the other Boston runs with base hits.
In the third, the Cards made an even worse baserunning mistake. Pitcher Jeff Suppan was at third and Edgar Renteria at second with nobody out and Walker up, the Sox leading 1-0. With the infield back, conceding a run, Walker hit a grounder to second baseman Mark Bellhorn. That should have resulted in an out, with Suppan scoring the tying run and Renteria bringing the go-ahead run to third with Pujols coming up.
But Suppan took a few steps, then threw on the brakes, and he was a dead duck. After recording the out at first, David Ortiz -- the designated hitter who was supposed to hurt Boston by having to play in the field -- threw Suppan out diving back to third. Double play. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa later explained that when third base coach Jose Oquendo yelled, "Go! Go!" Suppan heard, "No! No!"
Sounds like the punch line of a joke, and for the Red Sox it was.
Pujols grounded out to end the third and that was the ballgame, it turned out. Martinez took over. The next time a Cardinal hitter didn't make an out was when Walker hit a solo homer with one out in the ninth, with Boston leading 4-0 and the Red Sox traveling secretary on the phone to the champagne supplier. Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke each pitched an inning of relief.
The Red Sox are cruising -- my officially licensed Boston Red Sox spell check software wants to change that word -- doing what got them here: riding the arms of Martinez, Curt Schilling and a solid bullpen and regularly tattooing home plate with their cleats. And they're kicking the ball around in the field some, but not enough to keep them from winning. They've scored 21 runs in the first three games.
And as hopeless as things looked for the Sox when they were down 3-0 to New York, they knew if they could find a way to win Game 4 behind Derek Lowe, they'd have Martinez and an injured but maybe-able Schilling in the next two. Even if the Cardinals manage a win in Game 4 Wednesday behind Jason Marquis, their rotation will only go back to the three guys -- Woody Williams, Matt Morris and Suppan -- who failed to get past the fifth inning in the first three games.
Boston losing now would top everything. It would beat all the previous collapses, trump every prior disappointment. And it would mean this postseason, with never-been-done comebacks from 3-0 in back-to-back series, would have to rank as the youneverknow October of all time. There must be Boston fans out there going, "Leave it to the Sox to do something that's never been done, then let that be overshadowed by turning around and having it done to them."
More than a few of us got burned last week for saying the Sox were cooked when they were down 3-0 to the Yankees, so yes, the impossible can happen. But it's going to take a very different Cardinals team than we've seen these last few games. And more important, it's going to take a very different Red Sox team.
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Fox cliché and ethics watch [PERMALINK]
I've been laying off of Fox for most of this month because Fox has been playing it pretty conservatively on the cliché-ridden, bloated rhetoric front.
But the network reached a new low Tuesday night in Game 3 when Chris Myers interviewed "Leon," the character from a line of beer commercials, during an at-bat in the eighth inning. Leon stayed in character throughout the brief "interview," from which Fox cut away just long enough to show Mark Bellhorn taking a pitch, and then again to show him flying out to right.
Arrayed behind Leon and Myers were a gaggle of young women in T-shirts with a slogan from one of the beer commercials.
The Leon ads, some of which also feature Fox announcer Joe Buck, are pretty funny, but this wasn't funny at all. A commercial masquerading as an interview, even though Myers was clearly trying to play it for laughs, is inexcusable even under whatever lax ethical code the sports broadcasting industry operates under.
And to pull this crap during an at-bat in the late innings of a World Series game? I guess it's easier and cheaper than knocking on the door of every single baseball fan in the world and slapping them in the face, but it amounts to the same thing.
If I were Chris Myers, and I'm not kidding about this, I'd have resigned before agreeing to that part of the gig. I'd have handed over my earpiece right there in the stands. No job, even one as cushy as his, which seems to mostly involve interviewing octogenarian Sox fans in the bleachers about how long they've been waiting for a championship, is worth sacrificing whatever shred of integrity you have or respect you deserve.
Shame on Myers for participating, shame on Fox for asking him to, shame on the beer company for not respecting a sport and a team with which its own image and history are so intertwined, and shame on every one of us who saw it and didn't turn off the game immediately.
On the cliché watch, the openings of the broadcasts have been refreshingly free of Jeanne Zelasko's endless, scripted, purple prose introductions or the strange, boring, equally endless movie tie-ins or high-concept narrative pieces that did make an appearance or two in the playoffs.
During the League Championship Series Fox took to opening the broadcasts with semi-hipster music playing over highlight clips and goofy shots of players wandering around in a room filled with TV monitors.
I'm guessing there's some sort of connection between the chosen song and whatever theme Fox believes is playing out, but I haven't spent any mental energy trying to work these puzzles. It might have been a fun exercise to try to figure out what Social Distortion's boozer lament "Ball and Chain" had to do with the Cardinals vs. the Astros, but I passed.
In the playoffs, the song led to Buck or Thom Brennaman at the ballpark setting up the game. In the World Series, it leads to Zelasko, who tosses off a quick couple of cliché-filled sentences, but nothing like the towering wonders of execrable prose she was offering up at this time a year ago.
She's doing an admirable job of playing within the team's system, but it's sad to see a great talent handcuffed like that.
In other ways, Fox is its old self, missing pitches, playing annoying sound effects every time something in the score bug changes and routinely choosing the wrong camera angle and missing some essential part of a play.
Buck and Tim McCarver have been their reliable selves, whatever that means to you. I seem to have a lower opinion of Buck than the rest of the media. I think he's a good or even very good announcer, but not a spectacular one.
And I know I have a higher opinion of McCarver than most everyone I know, who hate him with a white-hot passion. I think he's not as good as he was in his early days as a broadcaster, and he has some quirks that bug me and he sometimes says crazy things -- like how a walk was exactly as bad as a home run in one game last week -- but he doesn't bother me and I still sometimes learn things about the pitcher-batter-catcher relationship from him.
As much as I hammer on Fox for its baseball broadcasts, I've never received an e-mail defending the network's coverage. I don't think I've ever criticized anybody or anything in this column without getting at least one e-mail in rebuttal. But while people have disagreed with me about which elements of Fox's broadcasts are the most annoying, not one person has ever e-mailed to say, "Hey, lay off Fox. I like the way they do baseball."
No one's ever come to Zelasko's defense. No one has taken the side of Scooter the talking baseball, Diamond Cam or all of those sound effects.
Fox clearly aims its baseball coverage at nonfans, hoping to make the game exciting to them with all the bells and whistles. But where are these people? Who is it, exactly, who enjoys the way Fox does baseball, as opposed to merely tolerating it? If you're out there, I'd love to hear from you.
And I'd love to hear you defend that Leon interview.
Previous column: The D.H. and home field
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