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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Trail blazers

They've been down this road before

Last year, a hopeless deficit meant nothing. The Red Sox fell behind New York, 3-0, losing Game 3, 19-8, then simply spit into the wind of the Yankee machine and asked, ''Is that all you got?"

Everyone knew exactly what to do. John Henry went to his computer and began calculations while Tom Werner had a shot of Glenlivet in Box L-1. Theo Epstein downed vodka tonics in an apartment over the Baseball Tavern and fell asleep still wearing his sport coat. Michelle Damon and Shonda Schilling wrestled over some lucky scarves, Terry Francona gulped Metamucil, and Kevin Millar poured shots of Jack Daniel's while telling everyone, ''Don't let the Sox win this next game, because if we do that we got Schilling and then we got Pedro and then anything can happen in a Game 7."

Two years ago, it was the same drill when the Sox fell behind the Oakland A's, two games to none, in their first-round, best-of-five series. The Red Sox returned to Boston, swept at Fenway, then returned to Oakland and rallied around Derek Lowe and Manny Ramirez after Damian Jackson and Johnny Damon cracked heads in shallow center field.

''We did it in '99, too," Jason Varitek reminded reporters late Wednesday night in Chicago.

Yes, they did. Varitek and Trot Nixon and Tim Wakefield were there in Cleveland when the Jacobs Field clock stood still as Pedro Martinez came out of the bullpen to stop the bleeding and lead the Red Sox, down 2-0 in the series, to a dramatic comeback win over the Tribe.

Good times.

But can they do it again? Is it reasonable to think the 2005 Sox -- depleted by injuries, defections, and two demoralizing losses on the South Side of Chicago -- can perform yet another miracle comeback? Or are these the final hours of these kings and vagabonds who brought so much joy to our region these last three years?

''It's not a pattern you want to fall into," acknowledged Epstein. ''But it's the personality of this club not to do things easily. It's too cliche to say we've done it before, but obviously we have. But we can't rely on it because history doesn't win games."

Odd that a team with a history of heartbreak would suddenly talk about the past in an effort to inspire hope. But that's what this group has done. The 2004 Red Sox changed history. They changed the way we think about them. That's why Tony Graffanino will get a standing ovation when he is introduced this afternoon. Sox fans recognize a stand-up guy when they see one and Graffanino's a gamer who has been one of Boston's best players down the stretch.

''Obviously, we're not in the playoffs without Tony Graffanino," said Epstein.

The White Sox put an unusual spin on their own history when they scored five in the star-crossed fifth to win Game 2. The ChiSox have only one comparable postseason victory and it came in the 1919 World Series. That's right. The 1919 Black Sox came back to beat the Cincinnati Reds, 5-4, in 10 innings after trailing, 4-0, in the fifth inning of Game 6. And they were trying to lose.

It's clear the Red Sox put themselves in a bad position for this series by going until the final day of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. That put Matt Young, er, Clement in Game 1 and the Red Sox have been scrambling since. Meanwhile, Wakefield was rocked in his final start against the Yankees and the Nation prays that the magic hasn't abandoned Mr. Knuckles at a most inopportune moment. As for Schilling, he pitched a serviceable game against the Yankees last Sunday, but Derek Jeter told one of his media friends (read: an ex-player) that Schilling had nothing. Sox executives winced at Schill's 91-mile-per-hour heater with no movement.

If the Sox lose today, they will be eliminated from the postseason without Schilling throwing a single pitch. And you can be sure there'll be some third-guessers suddenly wondering why management didn't cave and give Pedro the money last winter.

Oh, and remind us again why Edgar Renteria is better than Orlando Cabrera? Sure, Edgar's got three hits in the series, but why was he swinging at the first pitch for the final out Wednesday and wasn't that Cabrera winning Game 2 for the Angels with a big hit against the Yankees?

''We've got to find a way to win one game, then go from there," Varitek reminded everyone after Game 2. ''We'll be home and we'll have our 10th man there for us."

Indeed, Red Sox Nation pulled a rare no-show in Chicago. It has been a long time since the Red Sox have heard what it sounds like to play in another team's ballpark.

Damon added, ''I'm not going to panic and I don't think anybody in this clubhouse is going to panic. Now our backs are against the wall. Unfortunately, I think some of these guys like it that way."

If the Sox lose today, it could be Damon's last game with the Red Sox. Same goes for Bill Mueller, Millar, and maybe even Manny. Any day now might be last call for the Idiots. Then again, that's what we thought last year.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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