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Sox arrive teetering, but eyeing postseason
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA, Times Staff Writer
Published September 22, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Manager Terry Francona was stumped.
Asked Friday afternoon whether his AL East-leading Red Sox would celebrate if they clinched a playoff berth this weekend - following the Sox's 8-1 win over the Rays that night, they can clinch at least the wild-card berth as early as tonight - Francona sat back in his chair, trying to pluck the right answer out of the air.
"I haven't really thought about it," he shrugged. "Maybe we'll have a Coke or something."
The fact of the matter is the Red Sox limped into the Trop. After being swept three games at Toronto, Boston lost four games off its division lead in five days, with the Yankees just 1 1/2 games back going into Friday. It wasBoston'ssmallest lead since April 24; its largest was 12 on July 5(Boston moved 2 1/2 ahead when the Yankees lost Friday).
They have been without slugger Manny Ramirez for three weeks, and Ramirez isn't likely to return this series. First baseman Kevin Youkilis missed his fifth straight game. Setup man Hideki Okajima won't return until Thursday at the earliest. And DH David Ortiz's gimpy right knee makes him day-to-day.
Division winners or not, the Red Sox have begun preparing their postseason strategy, moving Daisuke Matsuzaka's start back three days to tonight.
"Sometimes you have to kind of scuffle through," Francona said. "I'd rather do that than limp through a couple weeks from now, which is what's going to happen if we don't start getting these guys healthy."
General manager Theo Epstein told a Boston radio show Friday morning it was important to win the division. "(It's) not a good thing to feel like you've earned something over 5 1/2months and then give it away over two weeks," Epstein told WEEI's Dennis & Callahan Show.
As for maybe celebrating tonight? "Maybe not all-out craziness," third baseman Mike Lowell said, "but I think we have to be happy about it because only four teams in our league are going and for us to be a part of them, we should be happy about that."