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Sox play for tomorrow

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  October 17, 2008 08:06 AM

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"Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually."
-- Aaron Boone, early moments of Oct. 17, 2003

"I think that's the mystique of Fenway a little bit, of what's gone on here the last couple of years in the postseason."
-- Kevin Cash, early moments of Oct. 17, 2008

It was precisely five years, of course, almost to the minute, if anyone cared to notice. Five years since Aaron Boone homered against Tim Wakefield, since Boone made a prophet of teammate Derek Jeter, since we were reminded that the most astonishing things seem to happen when you mix the Red Sox with October.

Now, after so many years of bad, the Red Sox get to celebrate the good.

"I was telling Tek after the game," Wakefield said early this morning at Fenway Park, recounting a conversation he had with catcher and captain Jason Varitek. "I've seen a lot of comebacks here, but that's probably the most impressive one I've seen."

Exactly how impressive remains to be determined, if only because the Red Sox found themselves in a most remarkable position today as four team buses pulled away from Fenway to cheers at exactly 1:24 a.m.: The boys had another game to play. Already trailing the Tampa Bay Rays in games, 3-1, the Red Sox faced a 7-0 deficit in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series when their fortunes improbably turned, when their bats suddenly awoke, when a season gasping for air drew a slow, deep breath.

When the ghosts showed up.

But really, how else to explain all of this? For six innings of Game 5, the Red Sox were "comatose" in the words of manager Terry Francona, whose head was still spinning as he hurriedly and gleefully showered, dressed and packed in his office off the home clubhouse. Asked how the Sox could prevail when things looked so bleak, backup catcher Kevin Cash chuckled. ("That's a good word," he mused.) Dustin Pedroia spoke to no one in particular as he walked from his locker to the showers -- "That was [expletive] sick," Pedroia said -- and the spunky second baseman actually shook his head in disbelief.

There are comebacks and there comebacks in professional sports, and depending on what happens tomorrow and, perhaps, Sunday, let there be no doubt that Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS will go down as one of the truly greatest wins in the history of the Red Sox, in perhaps the entire 96-year existence of fabled Fenway Park. The Red Sox were beyond dead in this game. Their season was over. And then the Sox scored eight times in the final three innings to pull out an 8-7 victory over a stunned Tampa Bay Rays team, extending the ALCS and this remarkable stretch in their history.

The only question now is whether the Sox can come back and win this series, too, if they give even greater meaning to a victory that Varitek described as "huge" but was nothing short of colossal.

"This is one of the biggest wins we've had in this organization," said Varitek, who, excluding Wakefield, has been with the Sox longer than any other active player and has been a part of so many monumental victories from 2003 to today. "It can't hurt us right now."

Let's be honest: The 2008 Red Sox deserved better than what happened at Fenway in Games 3 and 4 of this ALCS, when the Rays pounded starters Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. They deserved better than what happened in the first six innings of Game 5. The Red Sox finished second to these Rays during the regular season and may not be as good now, either, but there is no way the difference between these clubs is as great as it appeared during what still might have been the final homestand of the 2008 Boston baseball season.

Now, depending on what happens tomorrow, Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS could go alongside Games 4 and 5 of 2004 ALCS, Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. In some ways, it goes up there with the losses in 2003 (ALCS Game 7) and 1986 (World Series Game 7), too. Those are the games that mark the time in the extraordinary postseason history of the Red Sox, whose Octobers frequently turn as brilliant as the autumn leaves.

"I got a text message from by brother (Joey, the bench coach with the Chicago White Sox)," said backup infielder Alex Cora. "All it said was, 'Wow.' "

And so here we are now, 171 games into this Red Sox campaign, the fifth Red Sox postseason in the last six years, the fourth trip to the ALCS. Somehow, the Red Sox have managed to make us say wow again. Could another trip to the World Series be on the way? Could another world title be in the stars? Could the Red Sox use this game as a springboard, as the catalyst to propel them beyond the Rays and back onto baseball's grandest stage?

Could they?

"Tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow," said scheduled Game 6 starter Josh Beckett, shooing away reporters eager to speak with him now that he has another invaluable opportunity. "I have a press conference tomorrow."

In this case, tomorrow is actually today.

Tomorrow, after all, he gets another chance to pitch.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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