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How to play it straight

A look at game's unwritten rules

Like the "Curse of the Bambino," baseball's unwritten rules are still a part of the game.

They will follow the Red Sox and Cardinals throughout the World Series, keeping their normal low profile, until one is broken.

That can result in embarrassment, accusation, retaliation, and even a bench-clearing brawl, depending on which one is broken.

At that point, another unwritten rule kicks in.

Never stay in the dugout or bullpen when a bench-clearing brawl breaks out.

"That one can get you in deep trouble with your teammates, if you don't leave the dugout," said Texas Rangers broadcaster Tom Grieve, whose nine major league seasons as a player (1970-78) were spent mostly with Texas.

"The feeling is if you don't know that one, you deserve whatever happens to you."

There is nothing to suggest the Cardinals and Red Sox carry any grudges into this World Series. Except for a three-game, interleague series played during the 2003 season at Fenway Park, these teams have met only twice: in the 1946 and 1967 World Series.

It's the magnitude of postseason play that can make a player desperately swat the ball out of a fielder's glove while trying to reach first base on a ground ball.

It also can put an added strain on not trying to break these unwritten rules.

Here's a watch list:

* Never humiliate the opposition by running up the score.

Last season when the Red Sox beat the Florida Marlins, 25-8, at Fenway, losing manager Jack McKeon grumbled, "I didn't realize your pitching was that bad over here that you would try to add on to a 16-run lead in the seventh inning."

On a play at the plate to end the seventh inning, the Red Sox tried to turn a fly ball to shallow center field into a sacrifice fly . . . with the score, 21-5.

* Never steal a base or swing at a 3-0 pitch when your team has a big lead.

With today's hitter-friendly ballparks, that becomes more and more subjective.

"Baseball is unlike any other sport because there's no clock," Grieve said. "You can come back in baseball. We made up a 10-run deficit against the Tigers this past season. So, what's a `big lead'?

"That makes [breaking this unwritten rule] a little bit tricky . . . although when it happens, you know it."

* Never get thrown out at third base for the last out of the inning.

It happened to Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez early in Game 3 of the ALCS. The Yankees were ahead, 3-0, en route to a 19-8 win and a 3-0 series lead.

Careless base running won't rile the opposition, only your manager.

"Leo Durocher would take your money in a minute for a base-running mistake," said Bobby Bragan, who managed seven seasons in the major leagues through 1966. "Bobby Bragan would take your money. We had rules for running out ground balls. If you didn't do it, you'd get fined $50 or $100."

* Never peek at the catcher's signs during an at-bat (even if you try to act cool while doing it).

"That one is certain to draw one high-and-tight on the next pitch," Grieve said. "To me, that's beyond gamesmanship. That's blatant cheating."

Stealing signs, if it comes from the dugout or from a teammate standing on second base, is considered part of baseball. Peeking on your own is unconscionable.

"There are guys who have that reputation now . . . you'd be surprised," said Grieve, refusing to name names.

"Can't do it," Grieve added. "That's an unwritten rule with me."

* Protect your teammates by hitting one of their players if they hit one of yours.

"That practice continues today even in the minor leagues, although the umpires do a pretty good job of keeping it under control," Fort Worth Cats broadcaster John Nelson said.

Umpires now have the authority under Rule 8.02 to warn and eject, based on judgment of a player's intent.

"Heck, Don Drysdale [of the 1956-69 Dodgers] used to say, `For every one of ours you hit, I'll hit two of yours,' " Nelson said. "He was a two-for-one guy, and he'd do it, too."

* Never show up the pitcher by lingering at home plate after hitting a home run.

"That's just rubbin' it in, I don't like it," Bragan said.

"Unfortunately," Grieve said, "this has become somewhat of an accepted part of the game. Of course, 30 or 40 years ago, nobody did it. Today, a lot of the players -- hitters and pitchers alike -- want to look cool on SportsCenter."

* Never try to break up a no-hitter by laying down a bunt.

In May 2001, Curt Schilling, then with the Arizona Diamondbacks, had a perfect game in progress with a two-run lead in the eighth inning when .238 career hitter Ben Davis of the San Diego Padres laid down a bunt single.

"I have no problem with that," Grieve said. "What's the difference if it's a one-hitter or a no-hitter? You need a base runner to bring the tying run to the plate."

Schilling lost his bid for a perfect game.

And while there has been only one perfect game pitched in World Series competition, the same can't be said about the likelihood of unwritten rules being broken.

Let the watch begin.

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