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It looks like Lowe for Game 7

NEW YORK -- All Derek Lowe could do last night was wait and hope. When the baseball gods finally smiled on the Red Sox one more time, extending the season another night, Lowe tentatively was tapped to start a winner-take-all Game 7 of the American League Championship Series tonight against the Yankees in the Bronx.

The Sox initially planned to go with Tim Wakefield, the hard-luck loser of Game 7 last year on Aaron Boone's walkoff homer in the 11th inning, giving him a chance to avenge the greatest blow to his career and propel the Sox toward their first World Series in 18 years.

"Wake has already been told to kind of prepare for that," manager Terry Francona said in the final hours before Game 6.

But after the game, Francona indicated he was leaning toward Lowe, who started this series as the last man in the Boston bullpen. And Wakefield said he hoped to help the team any way he could out of the bullpen. The Sox apparently concluded that Wakefield might perform better than Lowe coming out of the pen.

Talk about a chance for redemption. Lowe, who fired 89 pitches over 5 1/3 innings Sunday in Game 4, would pitch on two days' rest, with Wakefield poised to pick him up.

The 38-year-old Wakefield threw 43 high-pressure pitches over three crucial innings Monday to pick up the win in the 14-inning, 5-4 epic. What's more, he fired 64 pitches over 3 1/3 innings in Saturday's 19-8 blowout by the Yankees. And he worked an inning of relief in Game 1, throwing 25 pitches. That's 132 pitches over a six-day period.

Wakefield has made no secret that throwing a knuckleball is only marginally less stressful than hurling conventional pitches. But he also has established himself as one of the players most willing to sacrifice himself for the team. After he missed a start in the Division Series because the Sox swept in three games, he volunteered during the Game 3 crisis in the ALCS to work out of the bullpen, giving up his start in Game 4. Then he stepped up again in Game 5.

Bronson Arroyo also may return tonight, despite pitching an inning last night.

"They're beat, the whole group," Francona said, "and they all keep wanting the ball."

No offense taken
As far as Manny Ramirez was concerned, David Ortiz wasn't calling out his teammates when Ortiz said after his second straight walkoff hit Monday that some other players needed to step up because he couldn't carry the team alone. Ramirez believed Ortiz simply was stating the obvious, and indeed, last night Mark Bellhorn drilled a three-run homer.

"Nobody's got to step up," Ramirez said. "Everybody's done a great job. Everybody's putting in little pieces and that's it." Pressing to perform better might not help, Ramirez suggested.

"I just try to do what I can," he said. "I can't be thinking I've got to produce more. When I'm in the playoffs, I'm not worried about my average or anything. You just have to go and do little things so you could win." Ortiz has nine RBIs in the series, the most ever by a Sox player in an ALCS. The previous high was six by Rich Gedman (1986), Jim Rice ('86), and Ortiz ('03). The Sox record for the most RBIs in a postseason series is held by John Valentin, who knocked in 12 in the 1999 Division Series against Cleveland.

Ortiz went hitless last night for the first time in the nine postseason games. Ramirez was 1 for 4 and has had at least one hit in all nine games.

Clock watching
The Sox and Yankees set records for time of game in Games 3, 4, and 5. Game 3 lasted 4 hours 20 minutes, the longest nine-inning game in ALCS history. Game 4, at 5:02, was the longest extra-inning game in ALCS history, and Game 5, at 5:49, marked the longest game in postseason history. In the three games, the teams played 35 innings over 15:11, and combined to throw 1,299 pitches (663 by the Sox), an average of 433 a game.

Last night's game? A tidy 3:50.

But Francona had little interest before last night's game in bemoaning his team's fatigue. The Sox arrived at their hotel in Manhattan yesterday about 2:30 a.m.

"We don't need sleep right now," Francona said. "We can get it in the winter."

However, the Sox granted requests by Orlando Cabrera and Ramirez to stay in Boston after Game 5 and join the team in the Bronx yesterday.

"Manny and Cabrera wanted to spend the night there," Francona said. "They were beat."

Pedro Martinez also stayed behind so he could work out in the morning at Fenway Park and join the team before the game. Francona said the workout was aimed at getting Martinez ready to work out of the bullpen tonight if necessary.

Considering Jason Varitek's workload in the three marathons, the Sox almost certainly would have rested him last night if it were the regular season. But Francona said he asked Varitek after Game 5 if he wanted to rest.

"He politely declined," Francona said. "Their guys would do the same thing. That's just the way it is now."

Mueller elevated
With his No. 2 hitters batting .167 through the first five games, Francona lifted Bill Mueller from the bottom of the order to fill the 2-hole for the first time since July 22. Bellhorn homered hitting out of the ninth spot, while Mueller went 0 for 4. Mueller had been 15 for 31 (.484) against Lieber, and that, said Francona, is what prompted him to make the move . . . Varitek's three passed balls while catching Wakefield in the 13th inning of Game 5 set a postseason record, topping the two that got away from Pat Borders in the second inning of Game 5 of the 1991 ALCS between Toronto and Minnesota . . . The game-time temperature was 49 degrees, the coolest for a Sox game since a 48-degree start May 26 in a 9-6 victory over the A's at Fenway Park . . . Last night's game twice was held up because of crowd behavior at Yankee Stadium. That also was an issue between the teams in the ALCS Oct. 17, 1999, at Fenway Park. In the bottom of the ninth of Game 4, Sox manager Jimy Williams was ejected by first base umpire Dale Scott when he argued an out call on shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. The fans, angered by that and previous controversial calls in the series, tossed bottles and other projectiles, forcing the umpires and the Yankees off the field. The Sox lost the game, 9-2, and were closed out the next night. 

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