BOSTON -- So now it's the Rays who are dumping dirt on their grave, not with a shovel but with a bulldozer. The entire northeast corner of the country has that deer-in-the-headlights look. The American League Championship Series auctioneer is banging his gavel and rattling, "Going, going ..."The stunned and embarrassed Boston Red Sox are in a 3-1 ALCS divot and trying to decide whether to again go with the rolling victory parade. Been there, done that ... again and again. If anybody has a right to throw out that line, it's the Red Sox, baseball's Lazarus. So rather than being all but over, the flag may only be dropping on the real 2008 ALCS when the sides return to Fenway Park for Thursday night's Game 5. Have any doubts? Well, the words that appear atop this story weren't spoken on Tuesday night, in the wake of the Rays' 13-4 victory in Game 4. Francona's quote is from Oct. 16, 2004 -- the night his Red Sox were hammered by the Yankees, 19-8, into a 3-0 ALCS deficit.
|* Won final two on the road.|
Pedroia's sentiment is from Oct. 16, 2007 -- the night the Red Sox dropped their third straight ALCS game to the Indians to fall into a 3-1 hole.The moral of this short story is that Boston came back both times -- all the way to a World Series championship. And the Red Sox rehearsed the dramatics way back in 1986, when they became the second team to come back from a 3-1 ALCS deficit, overcoming that disadvantage against the Angels. Done then. Why not now? "It doesn't hurt our team to have that faith," nodded Jason Varitek, the Red Sox's captain. "But it starts with [Daisuke] Matsuzaka. He has to have a quality start Thursday." And Dice-K would have to be followed in similar vein by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Based on their big-picture track records, that's hardly an unrealistic assignment. The flip side of Boston's faith is the opposition's wariness. You can be sure that Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon will be reminding the young Rays from here to Thursday night's 8:07 ET first pitch about the Red Sox's genes. Paul Byrd saw it up close from the other side. He was a member of the Indians' rotation last October -- in fact, the Game 4 starter who had pitched Cleveland into that 3-1 lead. "Every year is a new year, so you can't take anything for granted," Byrd said. "Last year, Beckett just threw a great game in Game 5 [allowing one run, while amassing 11 strikeouts in eight innings of a 7-1 win].
GAME 5: JUST THE FACTS
|Rays starter: LHP Scott Kazmir|
|2008: 12-8, 3.49 ERA|
|2008 on the road: 4-6, 4.10 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 0-2, 9.00 ERA (four starts)|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 6-7, 3.62 ERA (21 starts)|
|2008 postseason: 1-0, 6.52 ERA|
|Career postseason: 1-0, 6.52 ERA|
|Red Sox starter: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka|
|2008: 18-3, 2.90 ERA|
|2008 at home: 9-3, 3.34 ERA|
|2008 vs. Rays: 2-0, 2.05 ERA (four starts)|
|Career vs. Rays: 3-3, 3.27 ERA (nine starts)|
|2008 postseason: 1-0, 2.25 ERA|
|Career postseason: 3-1, 3.98 ERA|
|Rays lead series, 3-1. Out of the 19 AL Championship Series that didn't end in a four-game sweep, the winner of Game 4 has won the series 14 times. One of the exceptions was last year's Red Sox, who overcame a 3-1 series deficit to beat Cleveland three straight times and advance to the World Series.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 2, Rays 0|
|Game 2: Rays 9, Red Sox 8 (11 innings)|
|Game 3: Rays 9, Red Sox 1|
|Game 4: Rays 13, Red Sox 4|
|Did You Know? The Red Sox allowed just two home runs in their first five games this postseason, but the Rays have homered 10 times in the last three games of this series.|
"That's what they needed to happen: Have someone come in and change the momentum. That's what Beckett did last year. He shut down our offense that was hot. Then we came back here, and all we're thinking is, 'We just have to win one out of two.' And we couldn't do it."That was a significant ingredient last year, as had been the case 21 years earlier -- after changing the tide with the Game 5 win, the Red Sox got to return to Fenway Park for the final two games. Yet the 2004 reversal against the Yankees was completed on the most hostile of grounds, Yankee Stadium. Lumping all the recent stories of rebuttal, the Red Sox are 7-1 in elimination games under Francona -- the only loss occurring in 2005, when Boston was swept by the White Sox in the Division Series. "I hope it's relevant," said Francona. "We'll set our sights on the next game, and we'll come packed [for a possible flight to Tampa, for Game 6]. That's the bet way to go about it." Of course, another thing the Red Sox had going for them a year ago was Manny Ramirez. And that isn't even a reminder of his dangerous bat -- the one that had David Ortiz's back -- but of his airy attitude. After all, Ramirez's "It's not the end of the world" remark following the Game 4 loss appeared to put his entire team at ease. Maybe because Ramirez got all of the heat for his candor, maybe because his teammates agreed with that philosophy and relaxed themselves back in gear. "You know, it ain't the end of the world," said Coco Crisp when reminded of Ramirez's attitude. "I agree with that. Life does go on. "We're here for a reason: To continue to win, go as far as we can go. Hopefully, that doesn't mean just the next game."
Worst back-to-back Sox losses in 2008
"You still gotta believe," said Ortiz, downcast yet still defiant. "We've been there before. We just have to play the way we have before. Simple as that.""It's really hard to come back from 3-1," reiterated Byrd, "but this team has done it before, so there's no reason it can't happen again." Normally, you'd have to caution that lightning doesn't strike in the same ALCS twice. But considering a Red Sox comeback has already crackled three times, that disclaimer appears to be out the window.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.