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SUPPAN'S BAD BASERUNNING DEFLATES CARDINALS

ST. LOUIS -- The Boston Red Sox were giving the St. Louis Cardinals a run. Telling them to go ahead and take it. But in one of those classic World Series gaffes, St. Louis pitcher-turned-baserunner Jeff Suppan had a braincramp that ruined his team's night.

Instead of darting home on Larry Walker's grounder that would have produced a 1-1 tie in the third inning Tuesday, Suppan hesitated and went back to third base. He was easily caught trying to dive back into the bag and St. Louis never caught Boston again during its 4-1 loss in Busch Stadium.

With the left-handed Walker up, the Sox were in a deep shift on the infield. Second baseman Mark Bellhorn, in fact, threw Walker out at first from the edge of the outfield grass.

"It was an easy read," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa. "They had the infield way back, the third baseman was way off the bag. Jeff heard 'No, no" and (third-base coach) Jose Oquendo was yelling 'Go, go." So men are not machines and it's a big miss."

Asked about the no-go scenario, Suppan absolved Oquendo of any blame.

"I screwed up. No deep explanation. I don't know how else to describe it," Suppan said. "Just bad baserunning on my part. No one else's fault. I was the one out there who didn't do his job."

The mistake was magnified when Suppan gave up another run in the Boston fourth that put St. Louis in a 2-0 hole. The Sox knocked him out with a two-run fifth.

"I had to put the thing on the bases behind me and not think about it," Suppan said. "I had to focus on my pitching. Pedro Martinez just had his game on, going through our lineup. It was a big mistake and you wish it didn't happen."

As has been the case throughout the series, the St. Louis clubhouse was silent and mostly devoid of appearances by any of its stars.

"We have to go home, look in the mirror and be ready to come back here fighting," said reliever Ray King, one of the few stand-up players St. Louis has on its roster. "Pitchers have to pitch. Hitters have to hit. We have to fight. We have no other choice."

"This is not over yet," insisted outfielder Reggie Sanders. "They've gotten the key hits when we've needed them and they've gotten great pitching. All we can do is come out fresh (tonight) and play good baseball."

Boston manager Terry Francona had the media in stitches during his postgame news conference when a reporter asked him how hard it will be during the next 24 hours to "not think about the precipice this team is on at this point."

"When you start using words I don't understand, it doesn't make it that hard," Francona said as laughter filled the room.

"The edge, you know," the reporter said.

"Thank you," said a smiling Francona. "We got here the way we did because of how we approached it and I won't have any trouble. We know who we're playing and how good they are. (Tonight) will be the most important game of the year for us, just like today was."

Is the nation obsessed with Boston's quest for its first title since 1918 and not paying any attention to the 105-win Cardinals?

"I believe you get what you earn," said La Russa. "If we had won two games in Fenway Park, I think everybody would be talking about how this club that led the regular season in wins is playing at a high level and can anybody stop them? The Red Sox won those so they get the majority of the attention. I think they've earned it."

Francona is the winningest postseason manager in Sox history with 10 victories. Bill Carrigan went 8-2 in leading Boston to Series titles in 1915 and 1916. Francona is 10-3.

Ten of Boston's 21 runs in the Series have scored on two-out hits. . . . Boston designated hitter David Ortiz had no problems playing first base, fielding seven chances flawlessly before being replaced in the seventh by Doug Mientkiewicz. . . . Orlando Cabrera's fifth-inning single gave him a 10-game postseason hitting streak. The Boston quartet of Cabrera, Manny Ramirez, Bill Mueller and Johnny Damon have each hit safely in all three Series games. . . . The Cardinals are likely to move Tony Womack back to the leadoff slot in Game Four. La Russa said Womack's back tightness is dissipating and his sore collarbone isn't affecting his swing. Womack is 1 for 8 batting seventh. . . . Tuesday was the 19th anniversary of one of the low points in Cardinals' history, the 2-1 Game Six loss in Kansas City in Game Six of the '85 Series. A blown call at first base by umpire Don Denkinger set the table for a ninth-inning rally that was capped by Dane Iorg's two-run single. The Royals won Game Seven the next night, 11-0.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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