Big Red(bird) Machine


Big Series: St. Louis (74-38) at Florida (55-57).

Big Finish: The St. Louis Cardinals have just about crushed the Florida Marlins' hopes of defending their world championship, and there is something fitting in that. The Cardinals are arguably the majors' best team, brandishing the best record and playing the best baseball and riding a seven-game winning streak after shutting out the Marlins on Wednesday, 1-0. Florida is now nine games out in the NL East -- for them, the first-place Atlanta Braves have slowly disappeared over the horizon -- and 6½ games out in the wild-card race. They would have to leapfrog five other teams to win the wild card.

Big Waste: For the second straight night, the Marlins wasted strong pitching. Carl Pavano allowed only one run over eight innings and was the losing pitcher, as the Cardinals' Jeff Suppan worked eight scoreless innings, allowing two hits. When the Marlins lost the first game of this series Tuesday, Florida's Josh Beckett allowed one hit over six innings, striking out five -- and got a no-decision. "We've got to win some games," Beckett told reporters. "We can't keep marching along through the season thinking what happened last year will happen when breaks went our way. We got to make them ourselves." It very well could be too late for that.

Big Nasty Guests: The Cardinals have a 38-17 record in road games. That's almost ridiculous. That's five more road victories than any other team, and nine more than the Yankees, who have the second-best overall record.

Big Zeros: The Marlins have managed only one run in their last 20 innings, and by the time Alex Gonzalez had hit a sixth inning single off Suppan, Florida had gone 30 at-bats since its last hit. Marlins manager Jack McKeon try to change the team's luck before the game: According to the Miami Herald, he sprinkled the bats with holy water. "But that hasn't worked out either,'' said McKeon. "I guess I've got to get it blessed again.''

Big Lineup: Tony La Russa is using newcomer Larry Walker in the No. 2 slot in his lineup. Walker drew a couple of walks on Tuesday, and Wednesday, he had a walk and a hit. Walker's presence in that slot in the order will force opposing starters to throw more pitches by the time they reached the middle of the order, with Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds.

Big Boppers: The Cardinals have three players among the top six NL hitters in RBI -- Scott Rolen, who leads with 98; Albert Pujols, tied for fourth with 81; and Edmonds, who is sixth with 80. The trio also ranks in the top nine in the league in runs scored.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," will be released Aug. 17, and can be pre-ordered through HarperCollins.com.