ST. LOUIS (AP) – It’s June interleague baseball, not a World Series rematch. That’s what the St. Louis Cardinals keep telling themselves.

“It ain’t the World Series anymore,” closer Jason Isringhausen said. “Ain’t no big deal anymore. Say we sweep them, what does that mean? Nothing.”

The winners feel the same way. Earlier in the week, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he hadn’t given the Cardinals a thought.

“It hadn’t even occurred to me,” Francona said.

Outside of the participants who are oh so blase, there’s no denying the interest connected with the return of the Red Sox to St. Louis, where they wrapped up a four-game Series sweep last October for their first championship since 1918 and then held a lengthy celebration on the opposition field. Even if the stakes for a three-game series starting Monday are relatively minuscule.

“It definitely makes for exciting baseball,” Cardinals left fielder Reggie Sanders said. “Getting an opportunity to face a team you faced in the World Series, especially this early, it’s exciting.

“Hopefully we can come out and make it exciting for our fans to win a series.”

Emphasize the lower case “A.” The same goes for the Cardinals’ three-game set that follows against the New York Yankees.

“I think it’ll be fun for the fans and it’ll be fun to see New York and Boston,” center fielder Jim Edmonds said. “But we have to win this year to get to where we want to be.”

Namely, where the Red Sox ended up last year.

“About all it can do is bring a smile to your face,” catcher Jason Varitek said. “You’ve still got today to worry about.”

So far, a fast start has helped the Cardinals threaten to top their major league-leading 105-victory season, erasing fears of a World Series hangover.

If there are any sour thoughts that linger from last fall’s quick exit in St. Louis’ first World Series appearance since 1987, a freefall brought on by a batting average of .190 and team ERA of 6.09, players keep them to themselves.

“Every memory is great,” Sanders said. “Getting to the World Series, minus losing, everything else is great. And I personally felt that the way it transpired it was meant to be for them.

“I believe in fate, and there’s nothing you can do about fate.”

Awful production from the middle of the Cardinals’ lineup helped fate along. Albert Pujols, Edmonds and Scott Rolen, who’s out for at least another month following shoulder surgery, combined for one RBI and two extra-base hits in the World Series.

But it’s not as if Pujols and Edmonds are burning inside for a second chance against the Sox. At least not now.

“That’s the way it goes,” Edmonds said. “If you don’t put that stuff behind you, then you’re going to have a tough time playing this game.

“I was happy as hell that I got a chance to play in the World Series, and we came up short.”

Most of the year, the Cardinals have been the only team in the NL Central with a winning record, including an 18-11 May, the franchise’s best record for that month since 1971.

They could use some competition, having gone a robust 19-4 against the Central.

But players bristle at the notion that the Red Sox series is any sort of reality check.

“It just lets us know it’s a long season and you’ve got to play all the way through,” Edmonds said. “And if you want to win the World Series, you’ve got to win those extra 11 games. You can’t stop at seven, which is what we won” in the postseason.

The Red Sox, who became the third straight wild card team to win the World Series, were in second place in the AL East. They’ve hung in despite injuries to pitchers David Wells and postseason hero. They’ve also got the Cardinals’ old shortstop, Edgar Renteria, which could provide an interesting subplot.

Renteria’s slow start in Boston generated some snipping when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, in Boston recently for a book signing supporting “3 Nights in August,” suggested that Renteria was a sensitive sort who wouldn’t respond well to criticism.

Schilling responded on Boston talk radio that La Russa had done Renteria no favors with that kind of talk.

“What’s wrong with what I said?” La Russa said. “Was I supposed to say, Boo him because it’s good for him?”‘

Another player with Cardinals connections is submarine reliever Mike Myers, who was signed to be the replacement for departed left-hander Steve Kline but then cut midway through spring training.

“Edgar will be back and it’ll be nice to see Johnny Damon and some of the other guys I was friends with,” Isringhausen said. “Nothing wrong with that. Hopefully, they have a good time in St. Louis.”

The series will put the Red Sox at the usual NL city interleague disadvantages: DH David Ortiz will have to play first base and the pitchers will have to take their turn at bat. Ortiz, who made an error in his only game in the field this season, has been taking grounders this week to get ready.

“I don’t like to look bad,” Ortiz said.

AP-ES-06-02-05 1250EDT

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