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Red Sox 8, Rays 7

Never say die

Sox are alive after improbable comeback

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 17, 2008
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His head bent, bat in hand, David Ortiz trudged to first base. He was out, as he has been so many times this postseason. He walked to the dugout, to teammates who suffered the same fate at the plate. He looked broken. And as he limped back, boos were heard at the once-beloved slugger.

Then the ball lifted, lifted and carried, and dropped into the right-field stands. He had broken out and brought his team back into a game and a series that was seemingly over. It was a three-run home run in the seventh, bringing the Sox within 7-4, and the Rays were the ones suddenly reeling. It wasn't enough, but he didn't need to do it all.

He left that to his teammates. He left that to J.D. Drew, who singled on a line drive over the head of right fielder Gabe Gross. Drew sent the series back to Florida, had given the Red Sox cause to celebrate as if they had won the series. Which, in a way, they had, their miraculous 8-7 win staving off the Rays in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series last night at Fenway Park.

It was only after that, after victory had been digested and absorbed, that Game 6 pitcher Josh Beckett said all that really needed to be said: "That was unbelievable, huh?"

So there is another game, the Red Sox, down 7-0, completing the second-biggest comeback in postseason history. The Rays, young and relentless, allowed the Sox back in. The Rays were nine outs from the World Series. Now the Sox, the kings of comebacks, have another shot.

"I can't say the game was exciting because the first six innings we did nothing," manager Terry Francona said. "They had their way with us every way possible. And then this place came unglued, and we've seen that before. But because of the situation we're in, it just - that was pretty magical."

While the Sox were outhitting and outscoring the Rays in the last three innings, Manny Delcarmen sat on the couch in the clubhouse. Daisuke Matsuzaka - who, along with Delcarmen, could have been the goat of this game - warned him not to move. Delcarmen, who walked the only two batters he faced, was charged with both runs, leaving the Sox in a 7-0 deficit in the seventh.

"They told me not to move," Delcarmen said. "The funny thing is the TV's a little late, so we hear the people scream. We don't know what the [heck] is going on, then we see the pitch."

That was Drew's single, the ball bypassing Gross as Kevin Youkilis rounded third base and scored the winning run for the Sox.

But before that, before the ninth inning, there had been more work to do in the eighth. So there was Drew, lofting his own homer into right, a two-run shot to cut the Rays' lead to 7-6. And there was Coco Crisp, who had a line single to right field on the 10th pitch of an at-bat that brought home Mark Kotsay with an improbable run. The score was tied.

"What a great at-bat," Dustin Pedroia said. "Just a lot of heart out of our team tonight. Now we get to keep playing baseball, keep trying to find a way to continue playing. We're on it [the panic button]. We've got no room for error, like I said yesterday. We've got to try to find a way to win.

"Guys believe that we can win. We know that they're a great team, and they put it on us the first seven innings again, and we found a way to overcome that."

The score was indeed tied, and those Red Sox dreams and that packed luggage suddenly didn't seem all that ridiculous. With Jonathan Papelbon's entrance into the game in the seventh going from a stopgap measure to a rarefied decision, it was left to the rest of the Sox bullpen to hold down the Rays offense, author of 31 runs the previous three games.

And it was left to the Rays bullpen, which had not distinguished itself in Game 5, to stop the resurgent Sox. So as Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler and J.P. Howell followed the brilliance that was Scott Kazmir, the Red Sox climbed back into a game they had been out of.

"Once we got down, 7-0, I think the sense in the dugout was, hey, just grind it out, play as hard as we can and whatever happens, happens," Pedroia said. "Not much was going our way at that point. We had some great at-bats, and kept believing that if we could keep chipping away, we'll have a shot at the end. We got it."

It had been a lifeless game for the Red Sox, a lifeless game for their fans, the 38,437 out of a game that seemed out of the Sox' reach from the start. Some began heading for the exits before the top of the seventh inning. And those who did missed the magic.

It was hard to blame them. It seemed there would be no comeback this time. No bloody sock. No flashing fastball of Beckett. The Rays, the mighty Rays, were proving a more formidable opponent than the Indians before them (2007), and the Yankees before them (2004). That, and the fact this team is a shell of former Sox teams. They were damaged and demoralized. They were ready for the end. Except they weren't.

The Sox pitching staff allowed the Rays to continue to bash again. In 16 2/3 innings in Games 2-5, Sox starters gave up 11 home runs, starting with a two-run homer from B.J. Upton in the first inning last night. Hometown boy Carlos Peña hit a two-run shot in the third, and Evan Longoria went back-to-back with a homer to left.

By the time the Sox emerged from the dugout to bat in the third inning, the Rays were up, 5-0, and manager Joe Maddon's questionable decision to start Kazmir over James Shields was looking pretty darn intelligent. Kazmir allowed two hits and had seven strikeouts in six shutout innings, a rebound from his first two postseason starts in which his ERA was 6.52.

But it wasn't enough. Six innings left too many to the bullpen, even a bullpen that had been among the best in baseball for most of the season. It had seemed over when Kazmir was relieved by Balfour. It wasn't.

"We were down," Kotsay said. "We had our backs up against the wall. We got a spark, David came out and hit a big home run. We just kind of fed off each other, and carried the momentum through the rest of the game.

"They kept us silent for a while. Fortunately, we woke up before it was too late."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

American League Championship Series
Series Overview
3
wins
4
FROM TODAY'S GLOBE
ALCS ESSENTIALS
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