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Red Sox starting to make things interesting

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Just when you think they are out, they pull you back in.

The never-say-die Boston Red Sox staved off playoff elimination on Thursday with one of the most improbable comebacks you will ever see.

Actually we have only seen one like it in the postseason and that was back in 1929 when the Chicago Cubs (who else?) blew an eight-run lead to the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

By the way, if you remember that and are reading this, my hat's off to you.

On Thursday, though, Boston rallied from a seven-run deficit with eight unanswered runs over the final three innings to post an 8-7 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park.

A lot of people are comparing it to Boston's Game 4 win over the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, but I don't see it. That wasn't a crushing loss for the Yankees. It was bad, but not rip-your-heart-out bad like this one was.

I compare it more to the way the Yankees won Game 4 of the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. Trailing two games to one, they found themselves down six runs early and you couldn't find a fan anywhere that thought they would rally. The Yanks, though, scratched and clawed their way back and eventually won in extra innings.

Atlanta was shell-shocked and the Yankees won the next two games after that. I can see the same thing happening here. That is how bad of a loss it was for the young Rays.

Before anyone gets too excited in Beantown, though, let's not forget that there have only been four times in which a team has rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win an ALCS since the format switched to a best-of-seven in 1985. But, then again, Boston has done it three of those times, most recently just last year against Cleveland.

In fact, with last night's win, the Red Sox improved to 8-0 in ALCS elimination games under Terry Francona.

Last year, Boston won Game 5 in Cleveland, but had the luxury of playing Games 6 and 7 at Fenway. This time around, the Red Sox will have to win the final two games at Tropicana Field, where the Rays were a major league-best 57-24 this season.

Boston will also have the best postseason pitcher of his generation on the hill on Saturday in righty Josh Beckett, who has been anything but that in these playoffs.

Beckett has been battered in both of his starts, surrendering 12 runs and 18 hits in just 9 1/3 innings. The Rays hammered him for eight runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 frames of Boston's Game 2 loss.

It has been quite a contrast from a year ago for the 28-year-old hurler, who was a brilliant 4-0 last season in the postseason. He entered the playoffs with a lifetime 1.73 postseason ERA, but thanks to his struggles this year he has seen it balloon to 2.85.

A rumor started to surface on Thursday that Beckett was in fact dealing with a torn oblique, but Francona quickly refuted that. I can't imagine the Red Sox would let him throw with that anyway. It does seem like he is dealing with something a little more than rust though.

You would have to think that given the way Beckett has performed here, Francona is at least kicking the idea around of starting Jon Lester in Game 6.

Sure, it would be nice to have Lester in Game 7, but you have to get to that point first. I would start Lester on Saturday, then go Beckett and all hands on deck on Sunday. After last night's game, though, Francona said he is sticking with Beckett.

You could also make the argument that Beckett's Game 2 performance wasn't any different than Lester's in Game 3, Tim Wakefield's Game 4 performance, or Daisuke Matsuzaka's miserable effort last night. Point is, it doesn't matter who the Rays face, they are hitting everyone.

Let's be honest, Tampa is still in the driver's seat. But, if they find themselves down early on Saturday, Joe Maddon's team is going to be tight. As they learned last night, Boston is not going to be an easy team to close out, no champion ever is.

Not having Troy Percival killed the Rays last night. Not to mention Joe Maddon did a terrible job of managing that bullpen. If Dan Wheeler is going to be your closer, use him in that role. Why bring him in the seventh inning of a three-run game?

Buck Martinez on the TBS telecast made a point in mentioning that the Rays had six players this season with two or more saves. He meant it as a compliment. Ron Darling, who has been fabulous this whole postseason as an analyst, quickly corrected him, saying all that means is that they don't have one guy to get the job done.

By the way, shame on the all the Red Sox fans who left Fenway Park shortly after B.J. Upton's two-run double in the seventh inning put the Rays up 7-0. Now, granted I also turned the game off at that point. Then again, I am not a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation, whatever that is.

Hasn't history taught them anything?

Before the series I picked the Rays in seven, but given what has happened, if the Red Sox somehow find a way to win on Saturday, Tampa Bay will not win Game 7 on Sunday.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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