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It's his chance to deliver

The dour postgame news conferences, the difficulty repeating his delivery, the flickering presence of a solid splitter, the spotty fastball command, the clubhouse turmoil. Curt Schilling can reduce that today to mere prelude material in another dramatic Schilling tale.

Today, in Game No. 162 of the season, he gets the ball, opposite Jaret Wright, with the chance to pitch the Sox into the postseason. Schilling is a man who finds a reason to make every game a big one, and, manager Terry Francona said, ''I don't think he's going to have to do a whole lot of thinking for [today]."

Schilling has faced the Yankees four times this year, twice in relief and twice as a starter (April 14 and Sept. 10). All told, he's 1-2 with a 5.17 ERA in 15 2/3 innings, allowing 9 runs on 16 hits with 4 HRs, 13 strikeouts, and 3 BBs. But he shut down the Yankees Sept. 10 at the Stadium, pitching eight innings in a 9-2 win.

''I hope everybody has as much confidence in Schill as we do," said Bronson Arroyo, who will be available in the bullpen if needed early or late. ''I think all of our starters are throwing the ball pretty equal, and we know Curt can handle the pressure."

''It's a matter of really seeing if he comes out with his good stuff or not."

If, then

If the Sox lose today and Cleveland wins, the teams will stage a one-game playoff tomorrow at Fenway, started by Matt Clement on three days' rest. Clement has never pitched on three days' rest. The Indians will counter with Cliff Lee (18-5, 3.79 ERA).

''I'm not really worried about it," Clement said. ''You go out and give what you've got. It's good. We'll have a lot of people there [in the bullpen] ready to throw. You give what you've got and hope you can go a long time.

''I'm ready to go, if that's the case. But we have a lot of confidence in Curt."

Francona would opt for Clement, rather than Arroyo on normal rest, because he wanted Arroyo available out of the bullpen for all three games this weekend.

Pair of Sox

The Sox, if they get into the playoffs, are guaranteed to face the White Sox, beginning Tuesday in Chicago. And, even though the team hadn't clinched anything yesterday, it willingly noted a benefit in not having to face the Angels. The Sox would, at most, have to face a one-hour time difference in the Division Series, vs. a three-hour difference.

''I think it's a point good, bro," David Ortiz said. ''California wears me out. It's like going to Japan, man.

''When we won two games [in the ALDS last year] I was like, 'We cannot come back here. We have to do something to not come back.' "

Ortiz, of course, homered to win Game 3 and sweep the Angels.

''We only have to go halfway across the country, and that may help us out," Damon said.

Power plus

Manny Ramirez's two home runs yesterday marked the fourth multi-homer game of his season and 43d of his career. His 44 homers this season tie Mo Vaughn (1996) and Carl Yastrzemski (1967) for fourth-most in team history. The 44 blasts also represent the second-best season total of his career. He also clubbed 44 with Cleveland in 1999, bested only by his 45 in 1998 with the Indians. He's homered eight times in 11 games. Ortiz and Ramirez have now combined for 91 home runs and 288 RBIs . . . When Randy Johnson uncoils that 6-foot-10-inch, lefthanded body of his during a day game at Fenway, the ball, to a righthanded hitter, appears to come out of the fans in center field. So, in addition to the tarps concealing Sections 34 and 35 in center field, fans in the first seven rows in Section 36 were issued green T-shirts. The club came to the decision after some players complained about the issue After a scoreless eighth inning, Lenny DiNardo has now allowed only one run in 13 innings since Sept. 1, a 0.69 ERA.

Finish is clear-cut

Even if the Sox win today and finish with the same record as the Yankees, New York wins the division because of a better head-to-head record against the Sox. Major League Baseball does not use a playoff for seeding, only for postseason inclusion . . . Why did the Red Sox lose the division? They went 11-9 over their last 20, while New York rolled to a 16-4 mark. ''Those guys got very hot," Damon said. ''I think we were still trying to find ourselves with some injury problems. We still had a good enough team to do it. We just weren't consistent enough." And, how did it feel to see the Yankees celebrate on the field at Fenway? ''They deserve it," Damon said. ''Why not? We got to celebrate on their field. They took care of business, we need to take care of that [today]." . . . Friday night, when the Sox pulled into a tie atop the American League East, a stadium worked moved ''BOSTON" ahead of ''NEW YORK" on the outfield scoreboard standings. Last night, four hours after the Yankees clinched the division, the scoreboard remained unchanged.

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