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BOB RYAN

Amid the euphoria, these numbers cry out

In the midst of your giddiness at this two-up World Series state, I hope you've noticed that your diamond darlings are living on the edge.

I submit two disturbing numbers: 8 and 21. They represent the number of errors and men left on base, respectively, for the Red Sox during Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. Here's another: 60. That's how many outs the Red Sox have had to get in order to put away Games 1 and 2 in this Series. Their eight errors have created six additional outs for the Cardinals to play with. Their shame is that they haven't done more to capitalize on Boston's largesse.

It should not come as a major news bulletin to report that the Red Sox simply cannot continue to live this way.

Or can they?

"Tito [i.e. manager Terry Francona] says they won't be putting an instructional video on our play," said general manager Theo Epstein. "But if they did, it would be entitled `How To Play Winning Baseball Making Four Errors A Night.' "

In their current serendipitous state, the Red Sox seem to be able to play through anything and everything. They made four truly ugly errors in Game 1, but they were able to survive and stagger home with an 11-9 victory. The obvious assumption was that they couldn't play another game like it if they were going to defeat a team as potent as the St. Louis Cardinals.

Well, they did. And they won again.

Now in Game 1, two of the errors were made by Manny Ramirez. That, of course, is part of the full Manny package. But three of last night's errors were made by Bill Mueller. Three! This was a major shock. Bill Mueller might be the Mr. Reliable of the team. He may not be the most talented guy, but he is perhaps the most fundamentally sound player in that room. But here he was, getting in the way of Jason Varitek on a second inning Jim Edmonds foul pop and later mishandling two ground balls, one of which accounted for the only run off Curt Schilling, and the other prolonging an inning that should have had Schilling chillin' in the dugout about five or six minutes earlier than he actually arrived.

The fourth error was another stunner, because it was a routine play. After Mueller failed to come up with Scott Rolen's two-out ground ball in the sixth, Mark Bellhorn failed to come up with an Edmonds roller that barely called for the use of a glove. So here was poor Curt, four outs deep into the inning, trying to get out of the inning. This, after being touched up for an unearned run in the fourth.

"But our pitching is why we can live with this until we get it straightened out," suggested Kevin Millar. "Curt picked us up."

Schilling survived this two-on, two-out dustup by retiring Reggie Sanders on a grounder to Mueller, who caught this one and out-raced Rolen to the bag.

The Red Sox have been surprisingly cavalier about the errors because they are, in effect, demanding to have it both ways. Manny made two Saturday, one when he failed to come up cleanly on a single to left and the other when he decided to slide in order to catch a Larry Walker sinking liner when a slide wasn't necessary. He caught his knee in the grass and the ball hit his wrist. But, hey, that's Manny.

Bronson Arroyo just made a bad, impulsive decision when he tried to make the hero's play on a So Taguchi roller up the third base line. He made an off-balance throw when he should have eaten the ball. Everyone understood, because they've all been there. Everyone also knew Arroyo wouldn't be doing this again. The other error was a poor throw to third by Millar, who was acting as a cutoff man. File this one under the category of, "Looks like Kevin's going to have to wait for his Gold Glove." He's not in there for his glove.

Last night the errors were acceptable because everyone knows it simply isn't going to be like this again. Mueller just doesn't do this stuff, and Bellhorn will catch that grounder 999,999 times out of 1,000,000.

Anyway, it wasn't as if the Red Sox didn't make some good defensive plays. Trot Nixon pulled off a classic belly-flop catch of a fourth-inning Rolen shot, while Mueller turned in a nice, unassisted double play on a second-inning liner by Mike Matheny.

"The field was horrendous," pointed out Francona. "It was wet, and everything. We made some errors. But I actually didn't think we played a sloppy game. Maybe that sounds like I'm contradicting myself."

Echoing Millar, Francona noted that "our pitchers made pitches, where it didn't affect the outcome of the game, which I'm thankful for. I would rather not make four errors."

What he really means is that he would rather not give the Cardinals all those additional outs. They are just too good to fool around with.

As far as the men left on are concerned, Theo isn't. The Red Sox have scored 17 runs in the first two games. They have had baserunners in 14 of their 16 at-bats. The way Theo sees it, you can't knock 'em all in.

"I would love to lead the league in men left on every year," he declares. "That's a sign of great offense."

OK, scratch that one, then. LOBs are good, sayeth the GM.

Now back to the errors. "Well, you know," said center fielder Johnny Damon, "I'll take four more errors in Game 3 if we win. So be it."

"Maybe four is our lucky number," joked Francona.

I forget. What exactly was my point, anyway?

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

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