It's a long climb, but Sox know way

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 16, 2008
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Jason Varitek smiled slightly. The Red Sox captain had been asked after the demoralizing Game 4 loss to the Rays whether he might say something to his teammates before tonight's Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

"We'll see," Varitek said. "Like I said, we've always handled things, whether it's good, bad, or indifferent. We've done a good job here of handling things in-house. We'll probably continue to do that. But we do need some outside support."

Varitek was there in 2004, when the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS to beat the Yankees, becoming the only team in baseball history to prevail after being three games down. He was there in 2007, when the Sox came back from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Indians in the ALCS. He was there, and he saw his team come together, ignoring the predictions of demise.

"It doesn't hurt to have some faith," Varitek said Tuesday night. "We need to find a way to get our crowd involved, get our fans involved, come out there, and be ready to play."

"It leaves an overriding belief," he added yesterday. "I believe. I believe that if we execute what we can do, we're going to present ourselves with a great chance to win."

While it's not an optimal position to find themselves, if anyone can take solace in the ability to come back, it is the Sox. Not only do they have solid veterans, they are veterans who have been through this before. On both sides. Such as Paul Byrd, who was on that 2007 Indians team that won three of the first four against the Sox, then saw their chance at the World Series disappear in the flash of a Josh Beckett fastball.

"It gets done one game at a time," Byrd said. "This team does not have to win three games. This team has to win one game. That's it, take it one game at a time. Your backs are against the wall, but you can't worry about the potential of what could happen on Saturday or Sunday, you need to worry about the next game, competing pitch by pitch and making it happen."

It has been that way since 2004, when manager Terry Francona began preaching pitch by pitch, game by game. Each night, the Sox needed only to win one game. Each night, after all, that was all they could win. That approach led to the Sox winning seven of their eight postseason elimination games under Francona, losing only in the 2005 Division Series to the White Sox.

"If we can draw on anything from that, good," Francona said. "Anything that's happened in your past, you try to turn it into an advantage for you. Saying that, this is a different team. It's a different Tampa team. But again, we'll use anything we can to give us any kind of advantage. That's our responsibility."

This team, though, is different than the 2004 and '07 editions. These Sox have had trouble hitting and pitching, and have shown no signs they can break out against a seemingly superior Rays team. So, while there is hope to be taken from the past, things are not the same.

As to how the Sox have been able to come back, again and again, Francona had two words: "Good players."

"That's what it always comes down to," he said. "We have very good players. And I think the magnitude of so-called elimination games, it's not going to get in the way of guys performing. That doesn't guarantee you're going to win, but these guys have played in big games. Every game here is big. So you go play the game, and then hopefully it's good enough to win and move on and play another game."

Going back to 1903, the Red Sox have lost three of the first four games in a best-of-seven or best-of-nine series six times prior to this year. In the next game, the Sox are 5-1, with the only loss coming in the 1999 ALCS against the Yankees.

In fact, the Sox have come back to win four of those series, beating Pittsburgh in eight games in the 1903 World Series, beating California in the 1986 ALCS, plus the wins against the Yankees in 2004 and Indians last season.

With all those chances to understand what happens in the most dire of situations, how to react and turn things around, the Red Sox seem to have found the essence of what needs to be done.

"Win," David Ortiz said. "Simple, just win. Go out there and win [tonight], and keep on going.

"We're just trying to get into the one mood that gets you going and go from there. Been there twice already, and I have two rings hanging in my house."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at

American League Championship Series
Series Overview
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