Too good to be true? Red Sox halfway home

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—Pedro Martinez on the mound. A confident, yappy bunch. A 2-0 lead, halfway to the World Series championship.

Could it really be this easy for the Boston Red Sox?


“I think we have a pretty good perspective of what we’re trying to do,” manager Terry Francona said before a lively workout Monday at Busch Stadium. “If you’re down, the task can get daunting. There’s no reason to look at it differently if you’re up 2-0.”

Besides, Boston fans remember all too well what happened the last time the Red Sox reached the Series. After winning twice at Shea Stadium in 1986, they lost to the New York Mets in seven games.

Now on deck: a tantalizing treat for this oh-so-close club … or a cruel trick.

A day after his 33rd birthday, Martinez will start Game 3 Tuesday night against former teammate Jeff Suppan and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Red Sox have won six straight postseason games, matching a team record set in 1915-16. This streak started with the stirring comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the AL championship series.

Then, before the World Series began, a curious little note appeared on the Green Monster. In small letters, someone had scribbled on Fenway Park’s left-field wall: “The Curse is Over!”

Suppan and the Cardinals are determined to force the Series back to Boston, perhaps for a Game 7 on Halloween night.

The Cardinals are 6-0 at Busch Stadium this postseason and certainly looked a lot crisper and more relaxed than they did in Boston. The last time they were home, Suppan outpitched Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the NL championship series.

“I think it’s a big edge,” manager Tony La Russa said Monday. “Our fans make us excited.”

The Cardinals also get a break because Boston loses the DH slot. David Ortiz will move to first base, probably knocking Kevin Millar out of the lineup, and Martinez will bat.

“I think as a matter of making a general statement, the National League club has the advantage. I think we’re going to lose some of that because Pedro Martinez has pitched in the National League and is used to handling the bat,” La Russa said.

“I think Ortiz has played first base before, but that’s not his favorite position. But you can’t try to hit ground balls to first.”

Some of Boston’s pitchers took batting practice at Busch, and drew plenty of razzing. Guys in the outfield shouted in, mocking Derek Lowe after he broke a bat.

Suppan finished last season with the Red Sox, making their playoff roster for the ALCS but not getting to pitch against the Yankees. This season, he settled in nicely and led the Cardinals’ staff with 16 wins.

Among the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez has done the best against Suppan, going 7-for-19 (.368) with three home runs against his former teammate.

“I wish I could go 0-for-40 in this Series and we win the next two games,” Ramirez said.

One big hit certainly would help, particularly by Scott Rolen.

Rolen connected for the go-ahead home run that beat Clemens and the Houston Astros. Now, the All-Star third baseman is stuck in an 0-for-8 slump against Boston.

Rolen popped up with the bases loaded late in an 11-9 loss in the opener. He hit a line drive that almost knocked over third baseman Bill Mueller—who later made three errors—in the first inning Sunday night. He then came up in the eighth with St. Louis down 6-1 and runners at the corners and only managed a sacrifice fly.

The Cardinals are still waiting for Rolen, Larry Walker, Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds to contribute in the same game. Against Martinez, they might try the same approach the Yankees often take, making him throw a lot of pitches.

“I don’t think you can actually go out there and control that 100 percent,” La Russa said. “You can’t go out and run the count up, and take two strikes and follow with bunch of pitches. He’ll put you away.”

While La Russa hopes to see a few timely hits, Francona would like to see a few more balls caught cleanly.

In setting a record for most errors in the first two games of a Series (eight), the Red Sox have dropped a popup and fly ball, skipped a throw into the stands, botched grounders and overrun a base hit.

It was chilly and misty in Boston. The forecast for St. Louis calls for temperatures in the mid-60s and maybe showers when Martinez takes the mound.

The three-time Cy Young winner finally gets to start in the World Series after a 13-year career.

“I think Pedro is geared up to be ready to pitch a very good game,” Francona said. “One of our goals in spring training was to not only have them pitch, but pitch productively, but pitch late in the season, and I think Pedro is a product of that.”

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