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Cards still in promising position despite loss

St. Louis has ace Wainwright going in Game 5, stud rookie Wacha in Game 6

ST. LOUIS -- It was a tough night in Cardinal Nation. But the disappointment surrounding the defeat at Busch Stadium should be a temporary sensation.

A record crowd of 47,469 filled Busch III to the brim Sunday night. These Cardinals loyalists held fervent and not unreasonable hopes of seeing the middle portion of a march to the 12th World Series championship in the long and proud history of the St. Louis franchise.

The scenario required no leap of imagination or twisting of fact. The Cardinals would win Game 4 of the 2013 World Series. Then on Monday night, with ace Adam Wainwright going, they would finish this World Series. They would defeat the Boston Red Sox and become the first big league team to win three World Series in this century. The Cards would not only be champions, they would be the best team of an entire era.

This happy scenario has not been obliterated, but it certainly has been delayed, detoured and determined to be a little too pat. The Red Sox won Game 4 on Sunday night, 4-2, and evened the Series at two games apiece, largely because outfielder Jonny Gomes hit a three-run home run off St. Louis reliever Seth Maness in the sixth inning.

This was Gomes' first hit of the Series in his 10th at-bat. When Shane Victorino was held out of the lineup as a late scratch, Gomes essentially became his replacement. He wasn't supposed to be in this situation, but then he wins the game. Baseball is like that at times.

"I'm just a right-handed, hard-swinger guy," Gomes said.

The Red Sox have been held to a .189 team batting average in these four games by some splendid Cardinals pitching, but this should not lead anyone to believe that the Sox are offensively overrated. They led the Majors in runs scored this season. St. Louis was third in that category. Now the Cards, hitting .235 as a team in the Series, aren't exactly tearing it up, either.

The nature of the postseason is for superior pitching to defeat high-powered hitting. But that doesn't mean that St. Louis is going to shut down Boston's offense night after night. These Red Sox are patient, selective hitters who grind out at-bats and drive up pitch counts. They resemble the Cardinals in all these aspects.

Maness has been a double-play machine in relief for the Cards.

"Maness has a tremendous sinker and he's a ground-ball guy," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

Second-guessing Maness' presence in a two-on, two-outs situation in a tie game against a right-handed hitter doesn't work, because this is where he has been much of the season.

"With Seth, he's been a guy who has been able to help us out and do an incredible job in that situation all season long," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's been able to come in and get the big out when we needed it, and we wanted to give him a shot. It just didn't work out tonight."

As disappointing as this loss was for the National League champions, the road ahead still looks promising.

The Game 5 starter for the Cards on Monday night will be their ace, Wainwright. Not much more needs to be said. Who could believe that Wainwright, after losing in the Series opener, will have two sub-standard starts in a row at this lofty level? He is more like the definition of the kind of pitcher you want in this situation. Boston's Jon Lester is accomplished, too, but it is hard to pick against Wainwright in this kind of circumstance.

Beyond that, the Red Sox's victory Sunday night guaranteed that the Series must return to Fenway Park for at least a Game 6. This is not an insignificant development.

But the Cardinals can go into Game 6 with Michael Wacha, who is 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in this postseason. Wacha has been the pitcher of this postseason. When the Red Sox managed to score two runs against him in Game 2, that was notable, because he had given up only one run in his three previous starts combined.

John Lackey could pitch for Boston in Game 6. He is a proven veteran, but neither he nor anyone else has been pitching as well as Wacha has this October. Lackey pitched an inning of relief in Game 4, his first relief appearance since 2004.

The loss Sunday night doesn't mean that the Cards are going to lose this World Series. It merely means that it won't be at all easy or automatic for them to win this World Series.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
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