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THE VIEW FROM ST. LOUIS

Not winning was real error

In the immortal words of Casey Stengel: "Can't anybody here play this game?" That was the title of Jimmy Breslin's classic book about manager Stengel and his wretchedly incompetent 1962 New York Mets, an expansion team that lost 120 games.

The book's theme could have applied to Game 1 of the 2004 World Series Saturday night at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox ended their Moe, Larry, and Curly slapstick fielding routine in time to claim an 11-9 victory.

There were 14 walks, eight by Cardinal pitchers, who also hit two batters. The Red Sox weren't much more precise. There was empty hitting in the clutch, especially by Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. The best St. Louis offense was the Boston defense; the Red Sox made four errors.

Maybe it was the cold weather on a blustery evening. Perhaps it was the hangover effect of two extremely difficult League Championship Series. Both teams were pushed and stretched to the limit just to get here.

But the Cardinals and Red Sox, baseball's best teams, looked like two rusty ball clubs working out the kinks and auditioning scatter-armed pitchers in a meaningless spring training exhibition.

"That wasn't an instructional video," Boston manager Terry Francona said.

In the end, the Red Sox mixed some muscle into the mayhem, slamming two homers to the Cardinals' one. The first was a mammoth three-run shot in the first inning by David Ortiz that set the tone; the Cardinals were forced to rally all night. And Mark Bellhorn won it in the eighth by banking a two-run shot off the screen on the right-field foul pole, giving the Red Sox the victory.

The Cardinals will be tormented by their failure to win a game the Red Sox tried to hand them as a welcoming gift. The Cardinals are proud, and they grind, so they didn't go quietly. That made this loss even more difficult to absorb. "We did some things we normally don't do," manager Tony La Russa said. "But I give [the Red Sox] credit. We opened the door and they capitalized just about every time."

Cardinals starting pitcher Woody Williams had nothing, and the Red Sox opened a 7-2 lead. The Sox couldn't hold onto it -- or the baseball. The Cardinals chipped away for a 7-7 deadlock, fell behind, 9-7, tied it again during an error-plagued eighth. But Bellhorn's stroke, just shy of midnight, ended this comedy of errors.

Except for Danny Haren, other Cardinal pitchers followed Williams's lead. It was a gruesome night for the St. Louis pitching staff. With the score 7-7, Kiko Calero was slapped for two go-ahead runs. And then at 9-9, Julian Tavarez was jumped for Bellhorn's homer. That homer followed an error by Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria.

But don't hang all of Game 1 on the pitchers. Combined, Pujols and Rolen were 0 for 8 and left five runners in scoring position. They and other Cardinals, including Jim Edmonds, missed multiple opportunities to deliver money hits. The Cardinals were 3 of 14 with runners in scoring position. Pujols and Rolen have saved the Cardinals so many times this year, it's unfair to dump too much criticism on them. But they didn't bring hot bats to frigid Fenway.

Two immediate mysteries surfaced in Game 1:

* I'm trying to understand how it is that the Red Sox are being portrayed as a scrappy, hustling, ragamuffin, underdog, against-all-odds team when, in fact, they've won more than 100 games this season, and have been bankrolled for a player payroll of $128 million. These are not the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, OK?

* And now we present our first official second guess of La Russa. He's made all the right moves in this postseason, but I'm puzzled as to why he refuses to give Haren a starting assignment. Haren was easily the Cardinals' most effective pitcher Saturday night; he took control of a runaway game and held the Red Sox in place with 3 2/3 innings of poised relief. And Haren's impressive outing only reinforced his presence as someone who could make a difference. Jeff Suppan and Williams have earned their places in the postseason rotation. But the other two starters, Jason Marquis and Matt Morris, have combined for a 5.91 ERA this postseason. Right now, Haren has the fresher arm and superior stuff. And at Fenway, he proved he wouldn't be rattled by the setting.

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