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Cardinals have been far from their best
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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Fourteen years after Tony La Russa�s 103-win Oakland team was swept in the World Series by underdog Cincinnati, the St. Louis manager is facing the same outcome against the wild-card Boston Red Sox.

�We�re in about as difficult a spot as you can be in,� the manager said Tuesday night after the Red Sox beat the Cardinals 4-1 to take a 3-0 lead.

�All we can do is win tomorrow.�

The Cardinals piled up a major league-leading 105 victories in the regular season, one off the 52-year-old franchise record, and beat Los Angeles and Houston in the playoffs to reach the World Series for the first time in 17 years.

Now they�re a team on the brink, finding novel ways to lose.

In sharp contrast to the regular season, the Cardinals have lost with poor clutch hitting, bad starting pitching and baserunning gaffes.

�I don�t think we�re stinking up the joint,� La Russa said. �But we�re capable of playing better.�

Even playing at home�where they were 6-0 in the postseason before Tuesday night�was no help in Game 3, when they were occasionally booed by the red-clad faithful.

�Losing a game at home in the playoffs feels a little weird,� reliever Ray King said. �Right now, we�re just making the little mistakes that become costly.�

The lowlight in Game 3 came in the third inning when the Red Sox conceded a run but the Cardinals failed to take it. Pitcher Jeff Suppan got hung up between third base and home on Larry Walker�s groundout, and got tagged out for a double play.

La Russa said Suppan had a mixup with third-base coach Jose Oquendo.

�When you�re in a championship competition and the other team is playing well, you can�t make mistakes,� La Russa said. �Jeff heard �No! no!� and Jose, he was yelling �Go! go!� So men are not machines and it�s a big miss.�

In the first, the Cardinals tested left fielder Manny Ramirez�s arm and lost when Walker got thrown out at the plate trying to score on Jim Edmonds� shallow fly.

�For the most part we haven�t been the Cardinals that everybody is used to seeing,� Reggie Sanders said. �We have to bring out all the guns tomorrow.�

As a result, the Cardinals are in the same predicament the Red Sox were in a little more than a week ago against the New York Yankees, down 3-0 and looking hopeless. Boston somehow rallied, so there�s a sliver of hope, although no team has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win the World Series.

�It�s something you�ve got to notice,� La Russa said. �It shows it�s possible. I think the one thing I�m absolutely confident about is that we�ve come too far to give an effort that will embarrass anybody tomorrow.�

It starts with the starters. The Cardinals are the first team since the 1989 San Francisco Giants to go the first three games without a starter lasting long enough to qualify for a victory�five innings.

Suppan got knocked out in the fifth of Game 3, following the rocky leads of Woody Williams and Matt Morris in the first two games. The three combined to go 42-27 in the regular season, but together have lasted 11 2-3 innings and given up 15 runs.

Suppan was better than the first two, though, and the bullpen shut out Boston the rest of the game.

But it didn�t matter, because the bats again were silent. Pedro Martinez retired his last 14 batters in a resilient seven-inning stint and the Cardinals got only one hit�Walker�s ninth-inning home run�in the last six innings.

The heart of the orderďż˝MVP candidates Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmondsďż˝was 1-for-10 with an infield hit in Game 3.  And the trio is 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position in the three games.

�Before we start pointing fingers at our pitching, we missed opportunities to score,� La Russa said. �We�re just getting beat.�

Now Jason Marquis gets the ball Wednesday night. He has been a disappointment so far in the postseason, allowing six runs in 7 1-3 innings in his two starts, but he�s coming off a career-best 15-win season.

�Obviously, I go out and try to win every game I pitch,� Marquis said. �Obviously, we�re down 3-0 and we need it.�


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