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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Here and there, there are contradictions

You know you've thought it. You've even heard it said out loud, uttered as if it were a common scientific fact. The black widow spider is identified by an hourglass shaped red mark on its abdomen, and the World Series is over.

See? Now you've done it. You've jinxed the unjinxing of the Curse. You've broken all the rules of superstition, which explicitly state that you never should speak of a desired result aloud. Nobody talks about no-hitters until they are complete. Physicians list patients in "guarded condition" until they are certain the danger has passed.

The World Series danger has not passed. The minute you open your mouth and suggest this championship is in the bag, something heartbreaking might happen.

Bad things always occur when teams look too far ahead. The Red Sox are up, 2-0, on the St. Louis Cardinals, and appear to be in command of their destiny, but remember the Curse of A-Rod. Nine days ago, your Boston Red Sox were down, 3-0, to the mighty Yankees, and you were hunting in your closet for your Mike Vrabel jersey.

Grizzled New York veterans like Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada knew better than to exhale, but some of the pinstriped newcomers became a little too giddy over the prospect of a World Series appearance. The Yankees' stunning collapse exposed many of the new kids on the Bronx block, including the once-coveted Alex Rodriguez, who revealed himself to be a petulant child willing not only to resort to cheating, but also to lie about it afterward. A-Rod has been with Seattle, Texas, and now New York, and his teammates all seem to shrink away. Hmmm.

The Red Sox don't have such problems, you say. If Kevin Brown were on their team and he stunk up the joint, as he did for the Yankees in Game 7, he would be greeted with reassuring pats on the back and "we know how you feel" laments, and not ignored by his teammates as he strode into the dugout and made a beeline for the clubhouse.

OK, then. We've established that the Sox have chemistry. But, like it or not, they are doomed to battle history. The Red Sox were up, 2-0, in the 1986 World Series and were one strike away from winning it all when despair prevailed. No need to rip open those old sutures. The point is, no World Series edge is safe until all four games have been won.

And still you grapple with the facts in front of you. There's a little angel on your left shoulder reminding you there's more baseball to be played. On your right shoulder is a little red devil with A-Rod's face whispering, "Come on, man. You know those Cardinals are toast."

I find myself listening to both little voices. As I head for Busch Stadium, my mind is a jumble of contradictions.

The Series is over because Boston will send Pedro Martinez to the hill tonight, and he is on a mission to prove he's still a money pitcher, a highly desirable free agent, and that he, too, can be heroic, albeit without bloody socks.

The Series is not over because Boston will send Pedro Martinez to the hill tonight, and the one-time ace seems distracted by all the wrong things. While his soliloquy following his performance at Yankee Stadium was eloquent, it was also a tad too self-absorbed for this time of year. It's all about team now. Any team should be glad to have Petey pitching in a critical game because he's a tough, proud competitor, but he's also one that really shouldn't go much past six innings.

The Series is over because Pedro's opponent on the mound tonight will be former Sox pitcher Jeff Suppan, who was so ineffective in his final days in a Boston uniform in 2003 that he was dropped from the playoff rotation.

The Series is not over because Pedro's opponent on the mound is Jeff Suppan, who has been St. Louis's best posteason pitcher with a 2-1 record and an ERA of 2.84.

You see how this works. It's over because the Red Sox committed eight errors in two days and lived to tell about it. It's not over because as the action shifts to St. Louis and National League rules kick in, David Ortiz must play first base to keep his bat in the lineup, and he might commit four errors all by himself.

You can start ordering your commemorative championship Red Sox DVD because the Red Sox can hit in the clutch, and the Cardinals can't. On second thought, cancel that order, because heavy hitters Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Reggie Sanders will not continue at their combined 1-for-22 pace forever. Remember Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero? He couldn't buy a hit in the Division Series against Boston -- until he crushed a grand slam off Mike Timlin in Game 3 to force extra innings.

Who ever would bet against the Red Sox, a team of destiny? Who ever would bet against the Cardinals in Busch Stadium, where they are 6-0 in the postseason, and their team batting average jumps 100 points?

The Red Sox can't be beat because pitcher Curt Schilling is vying for a bronze statue in Faneuil Hall by defying medical history and pitching for the Lord. The Red Sox are vulnerable because Schilling may not pitch again in this Series.

It long has been said that any series truly does not begin until a team loses a game at home. Tonight, St. Louis will try to live up to its reputation as the best defensive team in baseball. If it does, this Series suddenly becomes 2-1, and too close to call.

If not, the Cardinals will be down, 3-0, and no team ever has come back from that kind of deficit.

Except, of course, the 2004 Boston Red Sox. 

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