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BOB RYAN

Nice to look at, but gem had some big flaws

Buckle up, folks. The 100th World Series is off to a, shall we say, perversely entertaining start.

We had a pair of starting pitchers combine for 161 pitches, 21 base runners, and 12 runs in a combined six innings of work. We had the winning team commit four errors, each one more horrific than the last. We had a pitcher enter the game as a pinch runner and score, but not before doing a header en route from first to second.

Such a game deserves an appropriately improbable ending. Try this: An impeccable shortstop can't come up with a bouncer to his right with the score tied in the eighth inning, and a No. 9 hitter (albeit one with more than a little thump in his bat), who had hit the Yankee Stadium right-field foul pole in his final ALCS at-bat, hits the famed Pesky Pole for the winning two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. It was 11-9, Red Sox, and it had to frighten both managers because the offenses were downright relentless.

"I sat here and said yesterday that the four teams in the Finals [an interesting terminology, don't you think?] were the four best lineups," said St. Louis's Tony La Russa. "Unless you pitch really good, you're gonna get damaged."

"That was not an instructional video for the Instructional League," said Boston's Terry Francona. "But we persevered and won, which is what we set out to do. We made some mistakes today. There are things we need to clean up."

One thing he doesn't have to alter is his lineup. Once again, Mark Bellhorn justified his daily presence there, for he was the man who hit that winning homer. "If you've watched us all year, he's been a really good player for us," Francona said. "He's been a clutch player who has had a lot of game-winning hits. We all feel good about him."

Bellhorn was an automatic out supreme in the beginning of the Yankees series, but he started showing an offensive pulse with two hits in Game 5. He had the big three-run homer in Game 6 and he had that solo homer in Game 7. Last night, in addition to the big blow off Julian Tavarez in the eighth, he had a single, two walks, and three runs scored.

Bellhorn came up in the eighth with Jason Varitek on first, thanks to an Edgar Renteria error. There was a fair amount of irony in play here, given that the Red Sox had committed four astonishingly ugly errors, two of those by Manny Ramirez, who, as one wag pointed out, hit .600 and fielded .333 in this affair. The Cardinals are baseball's best defensive team, and Renteria is an excellent shortstop. The play in question was a ball hit to his right that forced him to use his backhand. Calling it an error was a borderline call. But it was a play a Cardinal is supposed to make, and this was a bad time for him not to be a proper Cardinal.

The Red Sox second baseman almost homered earlier in the at-bat, but his shot down the line drifted foul. "It depends on which way the wind is blowing," he said. "I hit that one pretty good. Actually, I thought the first one had it, but the wind blew it right."

The rule of thumb is that a man generally gets no more than one home run opportunity per at-bat. But this was one of those times when a man had a second chance, and Bellhorn made the most of his extra opportunity, lofting a Tavarez pitch right down the line, striking the foul pole -- the vaunted Pesky Pole, that is -- fairly high up.

That put a capper on a night of baseball madness. The Red Sox handed Tim Wakefield leads of 4-0 and 7-2, but he was unable to locate his knuckleball on a night when the wind was blowing hard (21 miles per hour from the northeast at game time), and had to be yanked in the fourth, having thrown 19 balls in his final 27 pitches. At one point he threw 11 straight balls.

Woody Williams wasn't much better, giving up a three-run homer to David Ortiz in the first ("I didn't think it was that bad of a pitch" -- La Russa), while allowing 12 runners in his abbreviated action.

From the La Russa point of view, this game was only a partial horror show. "I think we did a couple of things we usually do; we play nine and give ourselves a chance. We did some things we don't normally do. We walked guys to set up innings and I think they scored two or three times. That's kind of not how we play it. But I give them credit. We opened the door and they capitalized just about every time."

Neither team learned anything about the other's lineup it didn't already know. Larry Walker, whom Dan Duquette tried to bring here during his tenure, was 4 for 5 with a homer and double. Ortiz remains the monster the Cardinals feared he was. And the Red Sox can hurt you from 1 (Johnny Damon) to 9 (Bellhorn).

Tonight it's Curt Schilling against Matt Morris, and the skippers will assume there won't be 14 walks and two hit batsmen tonight. These teams are tough enough to pitch to when they swing the bat. Placing extra men on base is a bit perilous.

Moral of the story, as outlined by La Russa: "You open the door, however you open it, and guys are going to score. They have a nice lineup, a real good lineup. We have a real good lineup, as well."

This is the man who re-invented baseball. Who's going to argue?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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