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YANKEES 19, RED SOX 8

Home wreckers

Yankees rout Sox at Fenway, take command of series

Religious leaders prayed for the Red Sox to reach baseball's promised land. The mayor appealed for divine intervention. Even comic Jim Dunn led the congregants at the Comedy Connection last night in a prayer service.

So why did the Sox all but find themselves on death's postseason doorstep? Why was a team that opened the playoffs with such extraordinary promise one loss away from receiving last rites?

Blame the baseball gods, if it helps ease the heartache.

But the fact is, there may be too little ink in the newspaper's printing plant to list the ways the Sox turned a night of mighty hope into a calamitous collapse of the worst order as Terry Francona's crew suffered a historically embarrassing 19-8 defeat to the Yankees and plunged into a 3-0 chasm in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series before a stunned 35,126 at Fenway Park.

"It was just a [butt]-kicking all the way around," starter Bronson Arroyo said, after putting the Sox on the path to the horrible finish. "You would try to forget about it during the regular season, but to get destroyed like this when it's crunch time and have a football score up there at the end of the game, it's definitely embarrassing."

No team has come back from a 3-0 deficit in postseason history. And the Yankees have not lost four straight games since April 22-25, when they dropped the finale of a road trip in Chicago and were swept in a three-game series by the Sox in the Bronx.

The watchword for the Sox by the end of the rout was "desperate." As in, very desperate.

"We have to do what's never been done in history," Johnny Damon said, "and that's come back from a 3-0 deficit."

In a humiliating performance that set an array of records for pitching futility in a League Championship Series, Arroyo and five relievers were punished unrelentingly as the ugliness unfolded over the longest nine-inning game (4 hours, 20 minutes) in postseason history.

"We had a night tonight where none of our pitchers located, I mean none of them," Francona said. "We walked guys, we hit some guys, we gave up a lot of extra-base hits. That's a bad combination."

The Yankees set a record for the LCS with the 19 runs and matched a record for hits (22) set by the Braves in 1996. They also matched the record for doubles (eight).

"It's like they have a certain gear right now," Damon said. "They're playing the best we've seen them play all year. It wasn't fun."

It got so bad that Francona was forced to summon his projected Game 4 starter, Tim Wakefield, who fared nearly as badly as Arroyo. By using Wakefield to try to stop the bleeding, the Sox left themselves little choice but to tap Derek Lowe, their Game 5 starter, to pitch Game 4 tonight and try to keep alive their fleeting chance of advancing to their first World Series in 18 years and ending their 86-year championship drought.

Should they prevail tonight, the Sox would tap Pedro Martinez for Game 5, then pray to the baseball gods who spurned them to deliver Curt Schilling from his ankle injury.

"It's going to be a tough road for us," Wakefield said. "It's never fun being down, 3-0, but I think everybody in this clubhouse is still optimistic."

The Sox will go nowhere but home for the winter if Lowe fails to overcome the demons that turned Arroyo and Co. into a veritable crew of batting practice hurlers. The Yankees rolled up a 13-6 lead by the fifth inning and never let up as they peppered the Fens with a dizzying barrage of hits, including home runs by Hideki Matsui (a two-run shot off Arroyo and another off Mike Myers), Alex Rodriguez (a solo blast off Arroyo), and Gary Sheffield (a three-run jack off Curtis Leskanic).

Rodriguez, Sheffield, Matsui, and Bernie Williams combined to go 16 for 22 (.727), score 14 runs, and knock in 15.

"It's a pretty potent lineup over there," Wakefield said. "I don't know why it happend the way it happened. It was one of those nights where no matter what we threw up there, they found holes and got hits. They were just better than we were, that's for sure."

The Sox entered the game knowing they needed to score runs to salvage their waning season after their 3-1 loss in Game 2 in the Bronx. In their urgency, they scored six in a hurry as they routed Yankees starter Kevin Brown after two innings and slapped around his successor, Javier Vazquez, for a couple more.

But the Sox pitched so miserably that many of the fans who adore them turned on them, showering them with boos and catcalls, before they all but abandoned them. In an eerie sight, the stands were as empty as they have been all season by the eighth inning of New York's runaway victory.

"It was horrible," Arroyo said. "We dug ourselves as big as hole as you can dig yourself, but we have to keep fighting to dig our way out of it. What else are you going to do?'

The Sox had good reason to enter the game with faith in Arroyo since he had not dropped a decision since Aug. 15 and the team had won all four of his starts this year against the Yankees. But the Yankees, who scored in the first inning in each of the first two games of the series, struck again as they spanked Arroyo for three runs before the Sox got to the plate.

Before the 16-minute, 31-pitch ordeal ended, Arroyo surrendered an RBI double to Rodriguez and the two-run dinger to Matsui, hushing the Fenway faithful at the start. And the Sox, who were favored to win the series, never recovered.

"We figured we would be the ones ahead, 3-0," Damon said. "But they're doing exactly what we thought we would be doing."

Not to worry, Francona said.

"It was disappointing for everybody, but we're not done," he said. "I fully expect we'll come out [tonight] and play our [butts] off."

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