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YANKEES 4, RED SOX 2

Brink job

Pushed to edge, Sox must steal two in New York

Perfect. The Red Sox are down to their last gasp, one loss shy of completing a mission they have seen since Day 1 as their destiny.

The Yankees may be in trouble now. Just ask the Sox.

Never mind that they need to win two straight in the Bronx, with Sox slayer Andy Pettitte awaiting them today, to dodge elimination and clinch a berth in the World Series. Or that only two American League teams of the 20 overall that have fallen behind, 3-2, in a best-of-seven League Championship Series have prevailed: the 1985 Royals and, yes, the '86 Sox.

And even the '86 Sox were no match for Grady Little's renegades in resiliency.

"Anyone who thinks we're done doesn't know us very well at all," general manager Theo Epstein said after the Yankees pushed his Sox to the brink with a 4-2 crusher before 34,619 at Fenway Park. "We've been in spots similar to this before and got the job done."

OK, so Epstein only built the team. If his word is not good enough, take it from a couple of players who helped the Sox cap a wondrous season of amazing comebacks by climbing out of an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five AL Division Series against the A's.

"It's tough, it's not easy," said Todd Walker, one of the few Sox batters who have consistently produced in the playoffs. "We certainly don't feel on top of the world right now, but we didn't feel that way down, 0-2, to Oakland, either. So we've already proven in recent history that we can turn this thing around."

Sox fans turn their desperate eyes today to John Burkett, who will oppose Pettitte in a do-or-die Game 6. A loss could signal the end of Burkett's career, as well as the team's season.

"I'm going to go out with intensity and aggressiveness," he said. "I'm going to pich the way I always do and hope it's enough."

The Sox are ready to saddle up behind him, even as they try to breathe life into their anemic offense.

"Here we go, Burkie, that's all I can say," catcher Jason Varitek said. "Here we go."

Hope flourished in the Sox ranks as they headed for Gotham, planning to defy the odds and return Friday to prepare for Game 1 of the World Series Saturday at Fenway.

"Our backs can't be any further back against the wall than they are right now," Varitek said, "but we've been here before and the team knows how to respond."

The Sox landed against the wall as Derek Lowe fell to 0-2 in the series by surrendering all four Yankee runs on seven hits and four walks (one intentional) over 7 1/3 innings. The Yankees scored all they needed against the sinkerballer when they struck for three runs in the second inning, a rally Lowe abetted by walking Jorge Posada with one out and intentionally walking Nick Johnson after Posada reached second on Hideki Matsui's ground out. The intentional pass brought up righthanded-hitting Aaron Boone.

"We liked our chances against righthanded hitters better than lefthanders," Lowe said. "We threw a sinkerball away, and he did a good job of putting the bat on the ball."

The ball bounced to third for an infield single, loading the bases. And Lowe responded by throwing a 2-and-1 changeup to Karim Garcia, who lined it up the middle for a two-run single.

"It wasn't a bad pitch," Lowe said. "It was a good job of hitting."

But Lowe could not say the same about his work against the next batter, Alfonso Soriano, who grounded a run-scoring single to right.

"It wasn't a very good pitch to Soriano," Lowe said, "and that was basically the outcome of the game."

Lowe could hardly be blamed for the loss, though, since the Sox mustered only two runs, including one on Manny Ramirez's solo home run off Yankee starter David Wells. The Sox have averaged just three runs a game in the series, hardly a recipe for success.

"It's not only one person," Epstein said. "We're just not hitting well as a team right now."

Nomar Garciaparra, who has hit .105 in the series, fanned with two outs and runners on second and third in the third inning. Ramirez grounded out with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning. And the Sox managed only one other serious scoring opportunity, when Walker tripled off Mariano Rivera leading off the eighth inning and scored on Garciaparra's ground out (the shortstop's first RBI of the postseason).

"We just couldn't get that big knock at the right time," Kevin Millar said. "[The Yankees] got their two-out hits early on, but we couldn't get ours."

So the end is near for the Sox -- a familiar, if unusual, position of strength.

"Any day now could be our last game," Johnny Damon said, "but we're hoping to get back here to open up the World Series." 

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