- Phil Rogers
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ST. LOUIS -- Here's one straight from the Department of Duh for Boston's long-sufferings:
The last time the Red Sox went to the World Series, they also jumped to a 2-0 lead, rolling to victories against the Mets at Shea Stadium.
So, yes, Boston fans realize 2-0 leads guarantee nothing, no matter what historial precedence says about the importance of a fast start. But if we can interject a bit of optimism onto the landscape, it should be noted that the Red Sox don't have as much to worry about as they did in 1986.
Davey Johnson's Mets had Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling on their side. Those guys were a combined 32-12 that season, and were positioned to get five starts in the series.
But this time the coast would appear to be clear for the Red Sox. Not only do the St. Louis Cardinals not have a tandem like Gooden and Darling, but they don't even have their top starter, Chris Carpenter. That means they'll have to be especially resourceful to avoid winding up on the wrong side of "The Curse."
Here are five things the Cardinals can do to get this series turned around:
1. Take advantage of the pitching advantage they have in Game 3, when Jeff Suppan faces Pedro Martinez.
Yes, you read that right. Martinez may be earning $14.5 million more than Suppan, but it's the St. Louis starter, the guy who has been with four teams in the last three years, who carries the better head of steam into Tuesday night's game.
Martinez is 1-4 with a 7.23 ERA over his last seven outings, including three starts and one relief appearance in the playoffs. Suppan, meanwhile, has gone 3-2 with a 4.01 ERA in his last five starts, including three in the playoffs. The last time on the hill, he outlasted Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
While Suppan opened the playoffs as Tony La Russa's No. 4 starter, he is probably their best guy for a must-win game.
2. Begin making the Red Sox pay for their fielding mistakes.
Given the number of unearned runs Boston allowed during the regular season -- 94, the third-most in the majors -- it isn't likely to return to the nearly flawless play exhibited against Anaheim and the Yankees.
But so far the Cardinals have scored only two unearned runs in the innings in which the Red Sox have made their eight errors. Instead of demoralizing Boston, turning the errors into big innings, St. Louis is hitting .158 overall with men in scoring position. Those are numbers that will lead to defeat.
3. Get the ball in the air at Busch Stadium.
Traditionally a pitcher's park, Busch has become a launching pad in the playoffs. It has yielded 25 homers in six postseason games thus far, including one by Craig Biggio on a swing so short it could have been made in a phone booth.
For whatever reason, the ball has been flying along the banks of the Mississippi. But the starting pitchers set to work for Boston -- Martinez, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield -- generally do a good job of getting ground balls. Martinez is the only one who has allowed more fly balls than grounders this season. All three must work hard to keep the ball on the ground.
The middle of the Cardinals' order has to come through. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds were a combined 4-for-23 with no homers and one RBI in the first two games, pulling the team average down to .237.
Maybe they were gassed after batting .370-9-22 against Houston. But it's time to break out the hittin' shoes.
4. Let Boston be the only team embarrassing itself in the pitcher's spot.
With National League rules in place, there will be no DH for the next three games. The Red Sox will move David Ortiz to first, taking Kevin Millar and his .297 batting average out of the lineup.
La Russa put a lot of pressure on the back of Game 4 starter Jason Marquis. The manager said one of the considerations for starting Matt Morris on three days' rest in Boston was to have Marquis bat in St. Louis. His .292 average during the regular season was the best among St. Louis' pitchers, stunning given his .096 average during four years with Atlanta.
Suppan entered this season a .259 career hitter, but batted .070, including an 0-for-44 slump at one point. Woody Williams, who would start Game 5, is a .213 career hitter. The career averages of Boston's scheduled starters -- Martinez, .094; Lowe, .100, and Wakefield, 119.
5. Make Curt Schilling go back to the mound.
Given the trouble Schilling had making his Game 2 start, and doubt expressed by Dr. Bill Morgan about performing the cut-and-paste procedure on his ankle another time, the anxiety level at Fenway would be off the charts on Saturday.
If Schilling could not start, manager Terry Francona would have to decide between starting Martinez on short rest or giving Bronson Arroyo a look. That situation would be exacerbated if there was a rainout, which forecasts suggest is possible on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Red Sox survived five games in five days against the Yankees, but could they do it twice?
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.
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