If Pedro Martinez was not muttering "Who's your daddy?" on Tuesday night as he mowed down the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the World Series, then he missed a wonderful opportunity to relish the ironies and ecstasies of baseball in October.

In Yankee Stadium exactly two weeks ago, Martinez couldn't silence a crowd that taunted him incessantly, repeating a variation of his own words back at him. But on this night, the Great Pedro, not the pale imitation that he has been at times this mediocre season, returned to the mound for one of the sport's indelible moments.

The absolutely perfect man -- a member of the Red Sox for seven seasons and one of the most spectacular performers in the history of the franchise -- was on the mound to pitch the Red Sox to within one game of their first world championship since 1918.

Last October, then-manager Grady Little left Martinez on the mound too long, until he had blown a three-run eighth inning lead with a pennant on the line. In the endless history of Red Sox indignities, none burned with a hotter gall.

Now, Martinez has enjoyed the opposite and perhaps even greater pleasure of hurling seven scoreless innings, allowing only three hits and two walks while fanning six Cards, in a 4-1 Boston victory that, for all intents and purposes, decided this World Series.

Don't tempt fate, you say? Forget it. Fate has folded. What had never been done in a century of postseason baseball, until the Red Sox did it to the Yankees last week, is not about to be done to them by the Cardinals. The memory is too fresh. A three-games-to-none lead, which the Red Sox now have, can be blown. They know it. Which is why the odds are way beyond astronomical and somewhere bordering on insane that they will let it happen to them.

Sure, it may take a while, but New England can start getting used to the idea of a winter totally bereft of discontent.

This, finally, is the Red Sox' year. And Martinez got the honor of all but deciding the issue as he got 15 outs on the last 14 batters he faced. Only one of those last 14 men got the ball out of the infield as the combination of a 92-mph Martinez fastball and a 78-mph change-up kept the anxious Cardinals off balance all night. Fittingly, Martinez ended his night striking out the last two men he faced, Jim Edmonds and Reggie Sanders.

What about the eighth inning? Pedro never pitched it, just as he never should have last year for the American League pennant. A fresh and excellent Boston bullpen was summoned and did its job, just as it probably would have 12 months ago. Though we'll never know.

"I hope this is not the last game I pitch for the Red Sox," said Martinez, who is a free agent after this season and wants to return but may not be able to reach contract terms. "I just want the fans to know I always did whatever I could. My heart will always be with them. . . . I don't want to leave. But if I leave, I'll be proud of what I did here."

Consider that statement, plus seven shutout innings, as Martinez's best efforts to instigate a "Please Re-sign Pedro" movement within the Red Sox Nation.

Meantime, the Cardinals are stewing in their own juices after yet another game of self-inflicted catastrophes. In two games in Boston, they walked 14 Red Sox, hit three others and let another free runner reach base on an error. And they also didn't take advantage of the worst back-to-back fielding games in World Series history as the Red Sox made eight errors. So, St. Louis was neck deep in self-criticism as the game began. Now, the Cardinals are way over their heads after one bad and one horrific base-running mistake.

In the first inning, with the bases loaded and one out, third base coach Jose Oquendo sent 37-year-old Larry Walker to the plate on a short fly out to left field. Walker was doomed. Manny Ramirez, who throws as well as he does not catch, gunned out Walker by 10 feet with a merely adequate peg. Martinez, backing up the plate, walked over and patted Walker on the rear end as he rose from the dirt. Pedro might as well have been saying to his old Expos teammate, "What can you do if the dummy sends you?"

However, this World Series may have been decided in the third inning when Cards pitcher Jeff Suppan beat out a dribbler to third base, then lumbered to third base on a double by Edgar Renteria. The Boston infield played back, conceding a run on a ground ball that would have tied the game at 1. Walker hit just such a groundout to second base. Any base runner on earth could have trotted home to score. Especially since Red Sox first baseman David Ortiz, normally a designated hitter, took the throw casually, expecting no further developments.

Suppan, however, is not just any base runner. He is now officially the worst on earth. Somehow, he stood frozen exactly midway between third base and home as if hoping to disappear or praying that Ortiz would not notice him. But eventually, Ortiz observed that there was an extra person in a strange place. So, Ortiz threw out the mortified Supine Suppan as he stumbled and crawled back to third base.

A mediocre pitcher would be inspired by such a gift of a gaffe. But Martinez suddenly became magnificent. Starting with that bizarre 4-3-5 double play on Walker, Martinez got those final 15 outs.

"Jeff thought he heard [coach Jose Oquendo] yell, 'No, no,' when he was [actually yelling], 'Go, go,' " said Cards Manager Tony La Russa. "It's a big miss. It's a big miss because Larry did just what he was supposed to do -- hit the ball to the right side, score one run and move another man to third with one out and Albert [Pujols] coming up.

"That's a big miss, brother. You can't do that in championship competition."

Tony, do you think maybe that was a big miss?

"I was really happy to see [Suppan] didn't take off," said Martinez, grinning. "We were conceding the run. It was a break and we took advantage of it. After that play I said, 'It's up to you now.' "

The Cardinals are in an incredibly deep hole. But their situation is even worse than it appears. They know that they've dug half of the hole themselves, playing every bit as badly as the Red Sox have played well. None of their three starting pitchers has even finished five innings. The Red Sox clearly love hitting against all of them and would relish any rematches. Also, the Cardinals' mighty No. 3-4-5 hitters, who arrived in this Series with hype up to their necks, have a total of one RBI. The sense that you've helped beat yourself, that you actually deserve to lose, makes comebacks all the more difficult.

So, let the countdown begin. It's not a question of if. It's now simply a matter of when the Red Sox end their eons of pain.