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Forget mystique and just play ball

ST. LOUIS -- Flying back from Boston late Sunday night, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa popped in a DVD of the film "Miracle," which tells the true and uplifting story of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team.

The irony is delicious. Believe it or not, in Boston they're actually comparing the Red Sox to the scruffy US team that upset the Soviet Union as a prelude to winning the gold medal. I don't believe that US team had a $130 million payroll as these Red Sox do. But perhaps I am mistaken, and in reality, Mike Eruzione really was paid $15 million a year to center the US squad.

Boston's insatiable need to mythologize every Red Sox victory officially has reached cuckoo proportions. If the Red Sox proceed to win the World Series, the likely response throughout New England will be to demand a rewrite of Homer's Odyssey.

So when La Russa dropped the "Miracle" DVD reference in a conversation with a few sportswriters Monday at Busch Stadium, I cringed. Now it seemed that even the Cardinals were going to join the Greek chorus by concocting a schmaltzy motivational tale.

Storyline: La Russa plays "Miracle" for his down-and-out Cardinals and fires them up! Thus inspired, the Cardinals charge in, knock the perm out of Pedro Martinez, and win Game 3 of the World Series.

In reality, La Russa's selection was more of a reflection of his film sensibility.

"It was either, `Miracle,' " he said, "Or Spider-Man 2.' "

Oh, well. There goes an easy angle . . .

The truth is, the Cardinals don't have to be motivated. They realize they're in a pickle. The Sox have won six in a row, and the Cardinals have returned home, eager to push the reset button on this series.

The odds are against the Cardinals. Of the 48 teams that have seized 2-0 leads in the World Series, 37 have gone on to win the ring.

And national sentiment is against the Cardinals.

We're the fly in the soup . . . I mean, chowder.

Boston is America's latest team. And in case we needed confirmation, we were treated to an interview of nice-guy actor Tom Hanks during Game 2 at Fenway Park. And Hanks, a native of California, expressed his love of the Red Sox: "I'm an American," he told Fox. "There's nothing wrong with the city of St. Louis. They are a lovely people, they have lovely colors on their baseball uniforms -- but come on! I want Billy Buckner to have a good night's sleep for crying out loud!"

When you can't win the Tom Hanks vote, it's futile.

But there's hope. The Cardinals are 6-0 at Busch Stadium this postseason. National League rules apply, which means the despised designated hitter is a nonfactor. The Red Sox were only five games over .500 on the road during the regular season. Away from Fenway, Martinez was 7-6 with a 4.61 ERA. The Red Sox batted .304 at home, .260 on the road. Their OPS was .882 at home, .783 on the road.

No one on the Cardinals' side is freaking out. Including the postseason, the Cardinals have won 112 games. And that forms a steady foundation.

"We're a championship club," La Russa said. "One of the things we've done all along is, if we get down we find a way to get back in it."

The Cardinals had some strange things work against them in Boston. The bad hop that wounded Tony Womack. Reggie Sanders failing to step on second base on a hit-and-run gone awry. Scott Rolen ripping a line drive that was turned into a double play. Mark Bellhorn's bank shot off the right-field pole for the winning homer in Game 1. And weirdest of all: Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds going hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Naturally, these oddities prompted another round of animated "destiny" talk from Red Sox admirers. Somehow this is being viewed as evidence that this World Series is predetermined by an omniscient force.

"It's baseball," La Russa said. "Just baseball. It wasn't anything from the gods."

La Russa is right. It's only baseball.

And the Cardinals must start playing it better than the Red Sox.

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