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Bob Ryan

Is it only the beginning?

You gotta start somewhere, and it's always nice when you can call on a certified, gold-plated, All-American stud to get you in motion.

"He's got It," declares Mike Lowell. "There's a much different feeling when he's on the mound."

Josh Beckett has got It, all right, but this is 2007, and he is no 21st-century Iron Man McGinnity. Alas, Red Sox fans, he won't be starting tonight or, if Game 7 materializes, tomorrow evening, either. But don't rule out the possibility of him putting on the white Stetson, mounting a white stallion, and galloping in from the bullpen tomorrow, just as he did four years ago in a Florida Marlins uniform to help nail down a Game 7 against the Cubs.

"Well, we'll delve into that later," he said in the afterglow of Thursday night's eight-inning, five-hit, 11-strikeout dispatch of the Indians. "Obviously, I'm preparing myself for them to ask me that, and as of right now, yeah, I think that would be something I could do."

We in Boston are all about history, good and bad, and now is probably a good time to remind jittery fans that the Red Sox as an organization are familiar with successful extrications from 3-1 series deficits, and even a historic climb out of a 3-0 hole three short years ago. Key players such as Manny Ramírez, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, and, yes, Curt Schilling are around to tell that particular tale, and as a kicker, Messrs. Beckett and Lowell have their own bedtime fable to relate.

Gather round, ye folk of South Florida, whilst we recount the gallant escapades of our beloved '03 Marlins, who, with the aid of a mysterious creature known as The Bartman, smote the mighty Cubs.

Ever the pragmatist, Lowell offers this sober thought, however. "Just because we've been there," he says, "doesn't mean we're going to do it. You still have to do your job."

Right. Almost forgot. No matter how much fans may flatter themselves, raucous patrons cannot simply will teams to victory. History doesn't automatically translate into duplicate results. Dave Henderson's not walking out of that dugout. This bunch of Red Sox will have to continue the task that was begun with Thursday's 7-1 triumph in The Jake.

Kevin Youkilis sums up what happened in Game 5 from a hitting viewpoint.

"Everyone had the same approach," he points out. "No one looked unconfident in their abilities, and guys went out there and just went pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat, and I think that was the biggest success. Everyone just went out there and played the moment."

Bo-ring, but the gospel truth. That's how these guys have been trained to act. Players can't think in historic or apocalyptic terms. Players must go back to basics. Get yourself a - here it comes - quality at-bat, and see what happens.

Now there was a lot of legitimate discussion about the fact that it was unrealistic to think the Red Sox could come back in this series if everyone was relying on Big Papi and Manny Being Manny to do everything. Somebody else was needed to provide a spark. That someone turned out to be Youkilis, who put life in the team when he hit C.C Sabathia's fourth pitch over the left-field wall and onto that landing for a home run.

I'd quote the word "huge" in reference to the effect that blow had on the team, especially with Beckett pitching, but then I'd have to quote 25 players, a manager, a coaching staff, a medical staff, an entire front office, and a few million fans. Let's just say it was a hit of some significance.

The Indians got a cheesy first-inning run (bloop double, single, 6-4-3 double play), but that was the end of their scoring. Nothing was going to keep them from being Beckettized for the second time in this series.

Beckett Being Beckett is now a postseason given. The other big story of Game 5 from a Boston perspective was the offense. After three dead days, some non-Papi/Manny bats were able to do some damage.

The table setters did what table setters are supposed to do. They even remembered to put out the salad fork and the little butter knife. Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis were on base a combined six times, including a homer (Youkilis), a triple (Youkilis), a double (Pedroia), and two walks.

It was a well-rounded game for the Red Sox, and it coincided with an implosion by the Indians, who got a C game from Sabathia and submitted an eighth inning that was so ug-lee it could have been orchestrated by Freddy Krueger. God forbid that's the last image they leave for their fans in this baseball season.

I'm not saying it will be, but there was a measurable mood juxtaposition emanating from Game 5.

"It switched everything around," maintains Jonathan Papelbon, who was grateful for a little ninth-inning work. "It switched the feeling to our dugout, to our clubhouse."

Now before Red Sox fans get too giddy, keep in mind that Cleveland still leads this thing, 3-2, that Game 6 starter Schilling is a 40-year-old reinvention work in progress, and that Fausto Carmona has the kind of outrageous stuff that could put zeros on the scoreboard from now till Thanksgiving. Remember those "quality at-bats"? The Red Sox will need a few of 'em tonight.

But the central issue is that the Red Sox are alive, and there will be a baseball game in the self-proclaimed "Most Beloved Ballpark" tonight, and it remains a splendid time to be a Boston sports fan (How 'bout dem Bruins!).

"They've awakened the sleeping giant," says Papelbon, who has a little Bill Lee goofiness in him. "There will be consequences and repercussions for that."

Thanks to our friends at Fox, it's gonna be a long, long wait till that 8:23-ish first pitch. But it sure beats the alternative.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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