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WHITE SOX 5, RED SOX 4

Chicago bare

Red Sox blow out of the Windy City emptyhanded

CHICAGO -- This is not ideal, not easy, and most definitely not healthy -- for them or you -- but this is what the Red Sox know, and that, it seems, is where their hope and faith lie.

Down two games to none to Cleveland in the 1999 Division Series. Down two games to none to Oakland in the 2003 Division Series. Down three games to none to the Yankees in the 2004 Championship Series. Revived, and resplendent, in all three.

''We've been down this road," the composed spokesman, Johnny Damon, said last night in the visiting clubhouse at US Cellular Field, where his teammates quietly ate after allowing five unanswered runs in a demoralizing 5-4 Game 2 loss to Chicago in this American League Division Series. ''There will be no finger pointing. We go to bat for each other. We know how hard it is."

The task, again, is enormous: Beat the AL's best regular-season team, on three consecutive days, twice at Fenway, then once back here, where Chicago has clubbed a team record six home runs (in just two games) in the postseason and have outscored the Red Sox, 19-6.

Rookie Tadahito Iguchi delivered the only homer last night, with two outs in the fifth, uncoiling on a 1-and-1 David Wells curveball that sailed high and deep into the Chicago night. And that made for one lonely second baseman.

Already, there should have been three outs. The Red Sox should have finished that inning ahead, 4-2. Tony Graffanino should have caught the ball. That slow roller that slipped, yes, between his legs.

''He didn't hit it that well," Graffanino said. ''I didn't get a good read on it. I rushed it to try to get [a double play]. I just missed it."

Wells entered the fifth inning ahead, 4-0, but allowed Chicago to halve the gap on an Aaron Rowand no-out, run-scoring double, and a Joe Crede RBI single up the middle.

Juan Uribe then locked into a lengthy battle with Wells. Weak knubber foul. Strike looking. Smoked foul ball. Foul back. Ball up and in. Foul off to the side. And then, a snapping Wells curveball that Uribe weakly grounded at Graffanino. The second baseman moved in position to field the ball and shuffle it to Edgar Renteria all in one motion, for a sure force play at second, and a possible, but unlikely double play.

Instead, he attempted to flip to Renteria before picking up the ball. It skipped through his legs into the outfield. Graffanino walked to the mound.

''I told him [Wells], 'My bad,' " Graffanino said. ''And I asked him to get me out of the inning."

Wells recorded another out but couldn't handle Iguchi, the 30-year-old rookie whom the Sox worked out in January in San Diego before he signed with the White Sox. (Boston passed because they envisioned Iguchi at shortstop, and he showed limited range at the position).

With one swing, the Chicago second baseman brought his team all the way back, and he joined Hideki Matsui as the only Japanese players to homer in the postseason.

''I've made that play a million times," Graffanino said. ''The one time I missed it, it cost us the game.

''I've replayed it in my head a hundred times. I don't need to watch it on video. Completely my fault."

Wells: ''I blame myself more because I hung a curveball. When you hang a pitch you have to expect to get hit. I'm not going to show him up. He's played great for us."

Indeed. In 52 games with the Sox, Graffanino had made just three errors.

''To state the obvious," general manager Theo Epstein said, ''we don't make the playoffs without Tony Graffanino."

The same goes for Wells, who entered the game with a .769 career postseason winning percentage, third best of any pitcher with at least 15 postseason starts. He received a 2-0 lead after the first inning (Manny Ramirez's two-run single) and 4-0 lead after the third, when the Red Sox sent eight men to the plate against Mark Buehrle.

Wells had pitched 113 1/3 career postseason innings compared with Buehrle's one-third of an inning before last night, and through three innings, Buehrle was in danger, having allowed four runs on six hits.

''To get four runs off Buehrle, you've got to feel pretty happy about that," Damon said.

But, the 26-year-old lefthander set down 12 of 13 Red Sox beginning with the final out of the third inning and ending with Renteria's two-out single in the seventh. Buehrle lasted seven innings for his first postseason win before handing the ball to 270-pound, 24-year-old closer Bobby Jenks, who was making his first postseason appearance.

Jenks, who recorded a two-inning save, was bringing it -- his 2-and-2 pitch Ramirez smoked to center field for an out to begin the eighth inning registered at 100 miles per hour on the outfield scoreboard. Jenks allowed a two-out walk in that inning but got Bill Mueller (0 for 8 in the series) to ground out to end the inning.

Graffanino found himself in a redemptive spot, batting with one out in the ninth. He doubled, but Damon, on a full-count, popped up a 97-m.p.h. fastball to catcher A.J. Pierzynski just behind home plate. Renteria, up next, offered at the first pitch, a 98-m.p.h. fastball, and grounded to short.

''Guy's pretty amazing," Damon said of Jenks. ''I think he throws harder than it actually registers. He's got a real live fastball, and I couldn't catch up to it tonight. Hopefully, we won't be in that situation where he comes in to pitch, but hopefully I know him now."

Wells, meanwhile, allowed only two earned runs and suffered only his fourth postseason loss (10-4, 3.15 ERA) in 26 appearances (16 starts). For four-plus innings, he pitched like the center-stage performer he fashions himself.

He retired nine of 10 to begin the game. The only batter who reached in that span was Carl Everett, with a one-out single in the second, but the next batter, Rowand, grounded into an inning-ending double play.

But, Wells's defense let him down. And, when it was time for him to go, with two outs in the seventh, he wasn't having it, turning his back to his manager coming for the ball.

''I wanted to kill him to be honest with you," Wells said.

And that, really, encapsulated the emotional brutality of this night. There is a day off today, and another game tomorrow, perhaps the 165th and last of this season. Or, perhaps the beginning of something special. The Sox, you know, are 8-1 in elimination games the last two postseasons, 11-2 dating to 1999.

''They took advantage of these first two games," Damon said. ''They blew us out [Tuesday], took advantage of a mistake [last night]. We were a team put together to win every single game. And we're going to have to do that."

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