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RED SOX 6, CARDINALS 2

Two to go

With second win in hand, Red Sox head to St. Louis halfway to elusive championship

No one wants the Red Sox to capture the franchise's first world championship since 1918 more than the players who fell so excruciatingly shy in the four seven-game heartbreakers since that glorious day 86 years ago.

Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky of the 1946 team stood vigil at Fenway Park for the first two games of 2004 Fall Classic. Carl Yastrzemski of the '67 club tossed an inspirational first pitch before Game 1. And Dwight Evans has represented members of the '75 and '86 squads in cheering on Terry Francona's boys of October.

So far, the alumni have thoroughly enjoyed the show.

"From talking to them, I know they believe the job's not finished," Evans said. "It's refreshing because they're not happy just to be here. They want the wedding ring."

The Sox moved a step closer last night to raising their ring fingers and eradicating decades of franchise futility as they overcame a record-setting display of defensive ineptitude and upended the Cardinals, 6-2, before a euphoric 35,001 in the Fens to seize a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven extravaganza.

"No one remembers who finishes second," said the indomitable Keith Foulke. "We want to be the last team left in the big leagues."

The old-timers could thank the medical marvel, Curt Schilling, some finely-timed hitting, and a relief effort anchored by Foulke for delivering the Sox tantalizingly closer to a dream finish. Pitching with a dislocated ankle tendon temporarily stitched into place in a breakthrough medical procedure, Schilling all but silenced the dangerous Cardinal lineup, surrendering only an unearned run on four hits and a walk over six innings.

Schilling hobbled to the clubhouse after firing 94 pitches.

"You could see he was battling with his ankle," catcher Jason Varitek said. "We did the right thing getting him out of there."

Foulke and the Sox' bullpen did the rest as the Cardinals mustered only one run off Mike Timlin in the eighth inning and spiraled to their eighth straight road defeat in the World Series since 1985.

Schilling got all the support he needed on a trio of two-out, two-run hits -- a first-inning triple by Jason Varitek, a fourth-inning double by Mark Bellhorn, and a sixth-inning Wall-ball single by Orlando Cabrera.

So, it's two down, two to go, as Pedro Martinez prepares to start Game 3 tomorrow against Jeff Suppan in St. Louis.

"We're halfway to where we want to be," Timlin said.

Of the 48 teams that have won the first two games of a World Series, 37 (or 77.1 percent) have won the series. Even better for the Sox faithful, 28 of the 33 (84.8 percent) home teams that have gone up, 2-0, have prevailed.

Schilling said he woke up in such pain yesterday because of a suture aggravating a nerve that he was immobilized.

"I wasn't going to pitch," he said. "I couldn't walk, I couldn't move."

But after the medical staff removed the suture, Schilling was poised to help the Sox win a world championship, as he had done three years earlier for the Diamondbacks. Schilling's velocity ranged in the low 90s and he hit his spots, allowing him to thrive while his ankle was mildly numbed with the anesthetic Marcaine.

"Once they undid that [suture], everything felt a lot better," Francona said. "He went from looking a little concerned to wanting the Cardinals' lineup."

Sox medical director Bill Morgan was quoted by the Associated Press before the game as saying he may be reluctant to perform the experimental procedure again if Schilling needs to pitch Game 6.

"Honestly, we may not be able to do it a third time," Morgan was quoted as saying. "It depends what the tissues look like."

A high-ranking Sox baseball official said, "That's news to me," and Morgan said in a later interview that he may have been misinterpreted in the AP story.

"It's all wait and see," Morgan said. "We're just going to do the best we can and see what happens."

Francona said after the game: "As far as [Schilling] pitching again, if his turn comes up, of course. He's healthy enough."

Schilling declined to speculate, saying, "We'll see what happens."

The Sox were fortunate to survive committing four errors in a second straight game. No team had committed more than seven errors in the first two games of the World Series.

No one struggled more in the field than Bill Mueller, who made three, tying the World Series record for errors in a game by a third baseman set by Buck Herzog of the New York Giants in 1911 and matched by Pepper Martin of the Cardinals in 1934.

Yet the Sox surged to a 2-0 lead in a World Series for only the third time in franchise history, joining the 1916 and 1986 teams. The Sox beat Brooklyn in the '16 Series and lost to the Mets in '86.

"We are not going to fall into the trap after winning the first two," Alan Embree said. "You saw what happened with the Yankees. They've got a great ball club over in that clubhouse, just like ours."

Playing in the city's first World Series since 1986, the 2004 Sox have made a number of decisions that have broken their way and helped nullify their defensive shortcomings. They decided, for example, to bat Varitek fifth behind David Ortiz after the Cardinals twice pitched around Ortiz in Game 1 with runners in scoring position to face Kevin Millar with the bases loaded. Millar grounded out both times to end the inning.

"We need to have a reason for them to pitch to [Ortiz]," Francona explained. "I think Varitek is the right guy."

Sure enough, St. Louis starter Matt Morris issued consecutive two-out walks to Manny Ramirez and Ortiz before Varitek tripled to the triangle in center -- the first triple by a catcher in a World Series since Joe Girardi's for the Yankees in 1996.

Francona also kept Bellhorn at the bottom of the order despite his game-winning, two-run homer the night before. And Bellhorn came up big in the fourth with his two-run double to the base of the wall in center after Morris hit Millar with a pitch and surrendered a double to Mueller.

As for Cabrera, he stayed in Bellhorn's slot behind Johnny Damon at the top of the order and delivered his two-run hit after singles by Trot Nixon and Damon, helping the Sox soar westward after the game on wings of optimism.

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