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Baseball: AL playoffs

Sox keep faith -- and their season -- alive

"Four or five days ago, no one gave us a chance, but here we are, going to the World Series," manager Terry Francona says.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published October 22, 2004

BOSTON - The billboard sits near the corner of Lansdowne Street and Brookline Avenue, a long home run - appropriately - from Fenway Park.

Manny Ramirez is smiling, which is no longer the big news it used to be, and the three words above his head deliver a message that would seem simple anywhere else, but here, in this town, with this team's history, is a significant request: Keep the Faith.

David Ortiz had passed by that corner probably dozens of times. But last week, on his way to a workout at Fenway after the Red Sox dropped the first two games of the AL Championship Series to the Yankees, he paused to ponder what it really meant.

"I just parked in front of the photo and I just sat down for a minute and just thought about it, what we've been through the whole year," Ortiz said. "Then I went to the field and I just expressed myself to my teammates about what the Boston Nation has been waiting for and what they expect from us. So it doesn't matter if we are down 3-0.

"We just have got to keep the faith."

The Sox kept the faith, pulling off what may be the greatest comeback in pro sports history. And as a result, they have a date to open the World Series Saturday.

There were a number of reasons why the Red Sox were able to do what no team had ever done, to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series, and to do so against the mighty Yankees, no less, and with the final two games in New York.

The Boston pitchers shut down the Yankee offense over the last four games, holding the big four of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui to a .167 average with seven RBIs, five by Jeter.

Several of the Red Sox's slumping hitters chipped in to help Ortiz, with Trot Nixon getting a big hit in the Game 5-tying rally, and Mark Bellhorn and Johnny Damon hitting big home runs in Games 6 and 7.

Manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Dave Wallace manipulated their worn down bullpen with remarkable efficiency, the relievers allowing the Yankees only four runs in their last 162/3 innings.

But more than anything, the Red Sox may have won because they thought they could.

"Four or five days ago, no one gave us a chance, but here we are, going to the World Series," Francona said. "We didn't want to be down 0-3, but we fought back. We didn't give up, just like we didn't give up in July, when we were treading water there. And we're still not going to give up."

The Red Sox still need four more wins to officially reverse the supposed curse of the Bambino that has kept them from celebrating a championship for 85 years.

But getting back to the Series, and pushing aside the Yankees to get there, is a pretty significant accomplishment too.

"We did this for all the great Red Sox players who never found a way to beat the Yankees," general manager Theo Epstein said.

"The '49 team with Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky. The '78 team that should have won the playoff game. For our team last year that should have won and gone to the World Series. I can't really put this in historical terms, but it's taken a long time to beat the Yankees."

Fans throughout Boston celebrated the accomplishment as if it were the ultimate championship, the Boston Herald headlining its coverage, "BABE, YOU'RE HISTORY!"

But as excited as the players were after Wednesday, Francona said he has no doubt they will be prepared and focused Saturday.

"They'll be ready," Francona said. "It comes back to (that) they like to play baseball. So we have another baseball game to play. I think they'll look forward to that."

[Last modified October 22, 2004, 04:59:19]


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