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Proof positive that he should've known

They got me. My bad.

After all these years, you'd think I'd know better. A Sox watcher since the Kennedy administration, I should have resisted the urge to think the Red Sox were going to glide into the playoffs.

What can I say? I got sucked in. The Boss came to Fenway and performed an exorcism, the Sox routed the Yankees two days in a row at Yankee Stadium, and I got all Cowboy Up With People. Positivity was oozing out of my fingertips. Go back and read the stuff. Sounds like it was written by the Red Sox PR staff, for gosh sakes. I had the Red Sox ready to overtake the Yankees. I had 'em as a lock for the playoffs. It read like it was written by somebody who works for a company that owns the damn team.

Now this. The Red Sox lost again yesterday and for a couple of hours were tied with Seattle for the wild-card lead (Seattle eventually lost, keeping the Sox a half-game ahead for the final playoff spot). How in the name of Denny Galehouse did we get back in this uncomfortable place?

It all seemed so certain, so secure. After a 7-2 road trip against good teams, the Sox were coming home to widen their wild-card lead. Everything was going their way. They would flex those Fenway muscles and cruise into the playoffs with no drama. I bought a nonrefundable plane ticket to Oakland for Games 1 and 2. I anointed David Ortiz the Black Yaz and pondered the Sox pitching rotation for the first round.

Readers reacted predictably. The torrent of nasty e-mails tapered to a trickle while some Globe subscribers wondered if I was being held hostage, delivering the words of my captors against my will. Sox players started slapping me on the back instead of upside the head.

That was before the White Sox nailed the Sox Saturday and yesterday, putting Boston in a temporary tie with the Mariners, planting seeds of doubt in the weary soil of the Nation.

Suddenly, it's not going to be so easy, after all. Sure, the Sox are playing all sub-.500 teams in these last two weeks, but now we notice that Tampa Bay is respectable under Lou Piniella and the Orioles are 8-7 against Boston this year. And Cleveland? I'm old enough to remember when a couple of final-week losses to the woeful Indians almost blew everything for the 1967 Red Sox in the greatest pennant race of them all.

Now Grady Little is getting testy, Nomar and his bat are sickly, and Manny Moments (a couple of beauties yesterday) seem to be coming in bunches. The sure thing of last week has yielded new uncertainty and revival of the same old song. This Is The Year is getting nudged by They're Gonna Blow It Again.

"We all knew it wasn't going to be easy," general manager Theo Epstein said in the quiet clubhouse after yesterday's loss.

Ah, the clubhouse. This would be a good time to mention the Thin Red Line. The line first appeared on the carpet in the Red Sox locker room when the club returned home Friday. The stripe of red carpet signifies the no-reporters zone in front of Sox lockers. We're pretty sure Nomar loves the Red Line more than Moammar Khadafy loved the Line of Death. No one has told us if one foot (college rule) or both feet (NFL rule) keeps you inbounds, but only the Red Sox could introduce a "Walk the Line" policy on the same day Johnny Cash died. Back in the good old days (Friday) when everything was going great.

Everyone respected The Line yesterday, but there wasn't much to say about the game. "It's not going to get any easier now," acknowledged catcher Jason Varitek.

Most players dressed quickly and left. There was no music and the TVs were dark even though it was an NFL Sunday.

There's no reason the Sox can't get back on track, lace up the hitting shoes, and beat the Rays four straight this week. They're still 21 games over .500 at home and Boston's starters seem to be peaking at just the right time. Pedro goes tomorrow and for the first time all year, his games once again feel like automatic wins. I just didn't think they were going to make it hard this time.

Then again, they are the Red Sox. It's always hard.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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