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He stays helpful, hopeful

Graffanino on upswing

If there is anybody who can lend a little perspective on the Red Sox' current situation, it is Tony Graffanino.

The veteran second baseman spent a season and a half with the Kansas City Royals, a team that knows at the start of each season the only playoff baseball it will see will be on television. So after New York clinched the American League East with an 8-4 victory over the Sox yesterday at Fenway, Graffanino, making like the band ''The Killers," was Mr. Brightside.

''If I was still with KC, I would have plans for Monday," said Graffanino, who joined the Sox July 19 in a trade for minor leaguers Chip Ambres and Juan Cedeno. ''This is why you play the game. You want to play in the postseason. You want to win the World Series, and that's what we have the opportunity to do."

If the Red Sox do make the playoffs, Graffanino's bat could loom large. While he is not a full-fledged Yankee killer, he has a history of success against them. The Amityville, N.Y., native was a .310 career hitter against New York, and he added to that yesterday, going 3 for 4 with a home run and a stolen base -- gimpy left groin and all.

''Actually, the legs are feeling pretty good," said Graffanino, who had his left leg heavily wrapped after the game. ''I've been running a little bit more lately."

Entering the game, Graffanino was 1 for 9 against Randy Johnson. But he treated him like any other pinstriped pitcher, not a five-time Cy Young Award winner. Graffanino singled in the second, bounced a ball up the middle for another single with two outs in the fourth, and launched a home run -- his first off the imposing lefty -- in the seventh that brought Boston within 7-3.

''I don't even know. It's just the way it's worked out," said Graffanino of his success against the Yankees. ''I think there are some ball clubs you feel good playing against and others maybe not, but I don't think it's anything you focus on."

Graffanino had one more chance to burn the Bronx Bombers with a runner on and one out in the ninth, but he popped to Alex Rodriguez, who bobbled the ball for a second before safely securing it with both hands.

That left the Red Sox needing a win today (or a Cleveland loss) to punch their own ticket to the playoffs and avoid a one-game playoff against the Indians tomorrow.

Graffanino, who has played on three playoff teams, would be going back to the postseason for the first time since 2000, when he was with the White Sox.

Graffanino said he planned to put in another call to old friend Paul Konerko of the White Sox, whom he called before the start of Chicago's series with the Indians, to see if the Sox can get an assist from their pale-hosed counterparts.

Clearly, the former Royal will take a playoff berth any way he can get it.

''I don't care how you get in," he said. ''Once you're in, you're in. We want to get in and we'll take it any way we can get it."

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