Red Sox attempt to avoid A's' knockout punch

Saturday, October 4, 2003

BOSTON -- There are nine guys in the Boston clubhouse who know firsthand how to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the opening round of the playoffs.

Johnny Damon's memories of a big lead aren't quite as pleasant.

The Red Sox center fielder was with the Oakland Athletics when they blew a 2-0 lead to the New York Yankees in the first round of the 2001 playoffs. It's one of just three times that a team has lost three straight games after winning the first two.

"I know that all too well," Damon said Friday as the Red Sox prepared to play the A's in Game 3 of their best-of-five division series. "I wonder what those guys are doing today. They probably had a nice plane ride over. A little more exciting than ours.

"But we feel good. We're home now, and we have a very good pitcher going."

Derek Lowe (17-7 in the regular season, 4.47 ERA) will face Ted Lilly (12-10, 4.34) tonight in a game the Red Sox need to win to stay alive in the series. If they do, they'll face elimination again on Sunday and Monday.

If that all seems pretty dire, it's not nearly as bad as things were in 1999, when Boston dropped the first two games in Cleveland. Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez were both hurt and out indefinitely, as far as anyone knew at the time.

But Garciaparra and Martinez returned, and so did the Red Sox, scoring 44 runs in the final three games after getting just three in the first two.

"We talked about it the minute (Game 2) was over," said infielder Lou Merloni, one of seven current Red Sox who played for Boston in the series (Manny Ramirez played for the Indians).

"We said, 'Hey, we did it before.' But we were in a worse situation before," Merloni said. "The cry that year was, 'They'd better sweep us.' You don't want to give us life."

Nor are the A's likely to get overconfident, even after taking the first two games in Oakland. It's the fourth consecutive year they've moved within a game of the second round; each time the third victory has eluded them.

"I think that we have learned a few lessons over the past few years. Because you are two games up, that doesn't mean that it is over," Lilly said. "We need to seal the deal."

Lowe, who took the loss after coming on in relief in extra innings in Game 1, is Boston's No. 2 starter. But he was slotted for the third game so he could pitch at Fenway Park, where he's 11-2 with a 3.21 ERA. He's 6-5 with a 6.11 ERA on the road.

"If he gives you a good explanation for that," Boston manager Grady Little said, "I'd like to hear it myself."

Lowe isn't the only one who's done better at Fenway. The Red Sox had a 53-28 record at home -- second in the AL to Oakland.

"We are going into Boston, where their hitters are unbelievable," said A's outfielder Eric Byrnes, who is one of 12 Oakland players remaining from the team that lost to the Yankees two years ago. "We are not going to take anything for granted."

Little is hoping the home-field advantage will awaken sluggers Ramirez and David Ortiz, who have contributed almost nothing to the offense so far. Ramirez has one hit, Ortiz none in a combined 17 at-bats.

"Those guys hit some balls the other day that were tailor-made for this park," Little said. "That's the reason we're sitting here today is the offensive ability that some of these players have at this ballpark. That's what we're looking forward to."

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