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Red Sox, Rays roll a 7 in epic ALCS

Red Sox, Rays roll a 7 in epic ALCS

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ST. PETERSBURG -- In hindsight, it was preposterous to expect the Rays to forget in 44 hours a game that will be remembered forever.

So the Red Sox's 8-7 bullrush on Thursday -- merely baseball's biggest postseason comeback since 1929 -- begot their 4-2 win Saturday night, which now has begotten a Game 7. First pitch is slated for 8:07 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast on TBS.

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Do the Rays still think the Boston Red Sox can be gotten?

"It's not going to be easy," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. "They are the defending world champs. We had a chance to put them away and didn't, so now we've got to do it the hard way.

"We've got one more shot. We can truly teach ourselves a lesson. We can do something [tonight] that will make an imprint on us for a long time."

Namely, break that spell the Red Sox have cast on all the postseason teams they have had on the run.

Cliff Floyd guaranteed it, pulling a Joe Namath.

"They're the World Series champs. You've got to take it from them," said Tampa Bay's personable DH. "They know how to win. They stay poised in tough situations.

"That said, it's going to happen [tonight]."

Taking on the Red Sox in a Game 7 may seem like getting into a hot-dog eating contest with Takeru Kobayashi, or getting into a swimming pool with Michael Phelps.

Tampa Bay right-hander Matt Garza, such a money pitcher in Game 3 in Fenway Park, has the tall order of doing it again against Jon Lester.

Having the left-hander start series-clinching games is tradition-rich Boston's newest tradition. Lester will be taking his third consecutive such assignment, after having started Game 4 of the 2007 World Series against Colorado and Game 4 of the '08 Division Series against the Angels.

GAME 7: JUST THE FACTS
Tropicana Field, Sunday, 8:07 p.m. ET
Red Sox starter: LHP Jon Lester
2008: 16-6, 3.21 ERA
2008 on road: 5-5, 4.09 ERA
2008 vs. Rays: 3-1, 2.10 ERA (four starts)
Career vs. Rays: 4-1, 3.72 ERA (eight starts)
2008 ALCS vs. Rays: 0-1, 6.35 ERA (one start)
2008 postseason: 1-1, 1.83 ERA
Career postseason: 2-1, 1.86 ERA
Rays starter: RHP Matt Garza
2008: 11-9, 3.70 ERA
2008 at home: 7-3, 2.89 ERA
2008 vs. Red Sox: 2-1, 3.86 ERA (five starts)
Career vs. Red Sox: 4-1, 3.49 ERA (seven starts)
2008 ALCS vs. Red Sox: 1-0, 1.50 ERA (one start)
2008 postseason: 1-1, 4.50 ERA
Career postseason: 1-1, 4.50 ERA
Series tied, 3-3. The Red Sox are the eighth team in history to force a seventh game in the LCS after facing a 3-1 series deficit. Six of the previous seven clubs have won Game 7, including the Red Sox in 2004 and '07.
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
Game 5: Red Sox 8, Rays 7
Game 6: Red Sox 4, Rays 2
Did you know? The Red Sox have won nine straight elimination games in the ALCS, dating back to their comeback from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in 2004. Boston has won 13 of its last 15 postseason elimination games overall.

"It'll definitely be a lot of fun and a lot of excitement," said Lester, who was uncharacteristically knocked around for eight hits, including two homers, and four runs in 5 2/3 innings of that 9-1 Game 3 loss. "I don't think I have to change my game plan. I think I pitched pretty well, with the exception of a couple pitches [hit for homers by B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria].

"Unfortunately, those pitches hurt me pretty bad. But hopefully I can go out and execute pitches again and stay away from the big innings."

That is a Lester specialty: He has worked 230 innings this year, including the postseason, and has allowed multiple runs in only 21 of them. He limits the damage by specializing in retiring leadoff hitters, who have an on-base percentage of .277 against him, meaning he starts three out of every four innings with an out.

"We haven't been here before," said Longoria, "and that'll be part of the excitement for us. We've got a big opportunity to make history, and all the guys will show up excited about winning a game."

The Red Sox have been here so often, they've virtually diluted what once was considered a miracle. Tonight's Game 7 will be the fourth they have forced in postseason series they once trailed three games to one.

They are 3-for-3 in conversions.

"Any way you can gain an advantage, you're going to try," said Boston manager Terry Francona, realizing that experience in such situations is the best advantage. "It's probably pretty appropriate. We come down to the last game, and whoever plays better gets to move on."

Appropriate? Tonight's game will be the year's 25th between the teams. The Rays lead 13-11, and the Red Sox have a slight edge in runs scored (114-107).

For most of this ALCS, the Rays were the 1927 Yankees. Now the Rays just hope to turn into the 1992 Braves -- the only team in LCS history to let a 3-1 series lead dissolve into a 3-3 tie, and recover to finish the job.

The Red Sox used the karma card to begin their comeback, by having Curt Schilling make the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game 5. Maybe the Rays should now go to counter karma: Sid Bream, who slid home with the winning run in the aforementioned NLCS, would have no trouble getting here on time from Cranberry, Pa., where he lives to haunt Pirates fans.

The Rays' resolve in playing a tight Game 6 -- they had the potential tying run at bat as late as the eighth inning -- spoke well to their hopes for a Game 7 comeback.

In the three prior Game 6s of their storybook comebacks -- in the ALCS of 1986 against the Angels, 2004 against the Yankees and 2007 against the Indians -- the Red Sox blew out their foes by a cumulative 26-8.

"It's going to be fun," Longoria said. "In my opinion, there'll be less pressure on anyone. We'll throw it out there and have fun.

"I think there was more pressure when we were up 3-to-1. There was pressure on us to end it. Elimination games are always pressure-packed. You feel you have to win them, and in that situation you start to press.

"Now it's back to 0-0, and we'll come out and play the way we've been playing all year."

The Rays have courted a reputation for resiliency all year. They dipped into second place on the last day before the All-Star Game break. They had their division lead shrink to a fraction with an early-September loss in Boston.

They rebounded both times.

But they'd never before hit this kind of wall.

"We'll wake up thinking, 'Win today,' that's all. It could be our last game. We know that; that's reality," said Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour. "But we're tied 3-3, and it doesn't matter how we got here."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
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