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Harrowing ride toward postseason tortures Sox fans

It wasn't supposed to be this stressful anymore. After the glorious World Series win last fall, Kurt Jouvelakas was prepared to get some rest this year.

Instead, even though playoff season doesn't start until next week, Jouvelakas has been arriving at work with drowsy eyes. His social life has taken a dive, with his Friday nights booked for watching Red Sox games.

It's still September, but already the fear of losing and the necessity of watching has Sox fans frenzied, stumbling into work the mornings after game nights and rearranging their calendar around the team schedule. With four games to play, fans have plenty to worry about: key stars from last year's team out, ailing, or gone, and the Evil Empire heading into town for a potentially climactic series.

''It's a real nail-biter," said Jouvelakas, 30, of Somerville, a network technician for Verizon. ''This weekend is like the World Series. We've been losing, when we expected to be winning."

''I've had to shut off the TV and then turn it back on," said Nicole Hamer, 41, of Lynn, on her reaction to recent games. ''There's a lot of swearing at the TV. It's killing us."

Facing a weekend that will determine the Sox' playoff hopes, some fans called in sick on game days this week, and many more took time off from their daily routines to concentrate on what could be this season's final moments.

Chris Campbell and his son, 8-year-old Gregory, played hooky yesterday, with father taking the day off from work and son missing school so that they could spend the day buying Sox gear and waiting to be let into Fenway Park.

''We're nuts," said Campbell, 42, of Harwinton, Conn. ''At home, we holler at the TV. We are planning our whole weekend around the Sox."

In recent weeks, Campbell has let Gregory stay up at least half an hour past his bedtime to watch the Sox. In the mornings, Gregory gets up early to watch ''SportsCenter" before school.

''I'm tired," Gregory said yesterday, trying on a new Sox hat.

''He's the biggest Sox fan in the family," Campbell said. ''He does his homework before the games."

Other fans say they are also getting less sleep than they should.

''You know a Red Sox fan by the bags under their eyes," Jouvelakas said.

''I've been staying up all night and getting up at 4 a.m. for work," said Caitlin Hamer, 38, of Mattapoisett, a fire program assistant for a park services company. ''It's crazy."

The edginess has grown as fans watched their August dreams of a sure playoff berth unravel with the realization that this team, like many a Red Sox squad before them, would have to overpower the Yankees to continue playing in October. Fear resurfaced this month, with fans staring at television sets in horror as the team slipped out of first place.

''Winning last year makes us more nutso this year," Hamer explained yesterday as she lunched downtown. ''We should be ahead of the Yankees, not tied."

''It's been very intense," Greg Sullivan, 32, of Northborough said as he stood outside Fenway, trying to catch a glimpse of his favorite players. ''After last year we had such high expectations. Now, we don't know what will happen."

Even on school nights, Sullivan and his children -- ages 8, 7, and 6 -- have stayed up to later than usual to watch the Sox this past week.

''As long as they do their homework, they can stay up to watch the games," Sullivan said.

Don't their teachers mind the children being sleepy in class?

''They stay up, too," Sullivan said, laughing. ''This is Red Sox nation. You have to get used to staying up late -- it's just a little earlier this year."

Gregory Campbell, 8, of Harwinton, Conn., missed school yesterday to visit Fenway Park with his dad, Chris Campbell.
Gregory Campbell, 8, of Harwinton, Conn., missed school yesterday to visit Fenway Park with his dad, Chris Campbell. (Janet Knott/ The Boston Globe Staff)
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