ST. LOUIS -- Something was definitely out of whack at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night.
This wasn't the St. Louis team that won 105 regular-season games and seven more in the playoffs.
This couldn't have been those Cardinals, the team with the league-leading offense, five Gold Glovers and an errorless string as long as Johnny Damon's hair.
St. Louis, a team that prides itself on textbook fundamentals and precision execution, looked like a team out of sorts in a 4-1 loss to Boston that left the Cardinals within a loss of being swept in the Fall Classic.
"We played bad baseball," reliever Ray King said. "This whole Series has been too many little mistakes and now we've got to regroup and come out fighting tomorrow, first inning through ninth inning. We've got to pitch, we've got to hit and we've got to play defense."
Things the Cardinals normally do so well. Or so they did at least until this weekend.
So much for the home-field advantage.
While Pedro Martinez and his masterful effort (seven innings, no runs) was obviously the biggest factor in the outcome, the Cardinals had two excellent opportunities to put runs on the board early against the Boston right-hander, but came up with nothing largely because of their own blunders.
By the time the third inning was in the books, St. Louis had nearly as many baserunning blunders as hits and zero runs. And the Cardinals defense, with all that gold leather in the lineup, and the lack of designated hitters weren't the significant factors many predicted they would be in the Cards' home park. The Red Sox also played errorless ball and were quick to turn two Cardinals baserunning mistakes into double plays.
"I don't think we're stinking up the joint, but we're capable of playing better. They're stopping us sometimes, but we're better than some of the pitches and plays and swings that we've had."
-- Tony La Russa
The Cardinals are in the World Series because they are a talented team that rarely beat themselves in getting this far. Unfortunately for St. Louis in this Series, especially in Game 3, the shoe is on the other foot ... with the Red Sox doing the kicking.
Boston's staff has neutralized two-thirds of the Cards' Big Three -- Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen are a combined 1-for-21 in the series -- and the Cardinals haven't been able to counter attack with the small-ball game as they did during similar occasions in the regular season.
The most alarming turn, however, were the uncharacteristic gaffes the Cards committed Tuesday night.
Trailing, 1-0, in the third inning with Jeff Suppan on third base and Edgar Renteria on second with nobody out, Larry Walker hit a grounder to second baseman Mark Bellhorn. The Red Sox were conceding the run to get the out, but Suppan inexplicably stopped between third and home and when he tried to get back to third, Boston first baseman David Ortiz fired to third baseman Bill Mueller, who put the tag on Suppan to complete a 4-3-5 double play.
"I screwed up," Suppan said. "I really just screwed up, I don't know how to describe it or explain it."
That baserunning rock undermined what had started out as a promising inning for the Cardinals.
Albert Pujols followed with a grounder to the left side to end the inning, with Renteria staying put at second on the play even though there were two out. Though it proved moot since the inning would end, it was just another example of the brain lock that appeared to spread to several Cards on this night.
Jeff Suppan / P
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I think [Suppan] was just trying to be aggressive and it really was just an unfortunate play for him," outfielder Reggie Sanders said. "That's not why we lost. Pedro pitched an outstanding game and shut us down."
"Taking nothing away from them, but I don't know what was wrong," King said. "We just weren't ourselves tonight."
Walker was thrown out at the plate while attempting to score on a sacrifice fly to shallow left as the Cardinals ran themselves into an inning-ending double play in the first.
After escaping the early jams, Martinez found his groove from then on, retiring 14 in a row before he left the game for pinch-hitter Kevin Millar in the eighth.
Meanwhile, Cards pitchers have retired the side in order only five times in the 25 innings Boston has come to bat in the three games.
That, too, is uncharacteristic of these Cards.
"I don't think we're stinking up the joint, but we're capable of playing better," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "They're stopping us sometimes, but we're better than some of the pitches and plays and swings that we've had."
The real Cardinals certainly have proven they are capable of much better, but we've seen little of that team since the NLCS, and time is running out.
"Our backs are against the wall right now. We've got to come out fighting tomorrow," King said.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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