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Sox ready for home cooking
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10/10/2003  3:11 PM ET 
Sox ready for home cooking
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
The Red Sox return to play in front of the Fenway faithful beginning Saturday afternoon. (Charles Krupa/AP)
BOSTON -- Compared to the first time the Red Sox returned home to resume a playoff series, they are in a significantly better situation.

They lost the first two games of the best-of-five Division Series against the Athletics and came home in a win-or-else mode. They won two straight games at Fenway Park and then eliminated the AL West champions in the decisive Game 5 in Oakland.

This time, the American League Wild Card team has home field advantage.

By splitting the first two games of the best-of-seven AL Championship Series against the Yankees in New York, the Red Sox head into Game 3 Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. ET) knowing they will play at least three more games at Fenway Park this season.

"It will be nice to have three games at home and feel settled," said second baseman Todd Walker, who has hit a team record-tying four home runs so far during his introduction to postseason baseball.

Home sweet home, indeed.

The Red Sox had a 53-28 home record during the regular season, the second-best record in the AL (to the Athletics) and the fourth-best in the Major Leagues. They batted .316 as a team -- 10 points lower than third baseman Bill Mueller's league-leading batting average -- at the almost 100-year-old facility and wore out the Green Monster.

Some of the most impressive hitting records held by the '27 Yankees were removed from the MLB record book this season.

"It's a matter of the type of hitters that we send to the plate one after another," Red Sox manager Grady Little said. "They like hitting there, and they have had a lot of success doing it."

The Boston lineup produces runs from top to bottom.

Name a team that has a switch-hitting catcher who batted .273, hit 25 home runs, had 85 RBIs and bats ninth against right-handed starters. Those are cleanup hitter numbers for most teams, but barely gets Jason Varitek's name on the lineup card.

"They are very difficult to pitch to because they have no soft spot," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They don't give your pitcher any time off when he goes through that lineup. They don't strike out, they grind out the at-bats."

The Red Sox need to grind out three more wins in this series to oust their bitter AL East rivals and play either the Cubs or Marlins in the World Series, which starts a week from Saturday in either Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium.

The Sox like their chances of being in their first Fall Classic since 1986.

"Why wouldn't we feel good?" reliever Scott Sauerbeck asked. "It would have been nice to go home 2-0, but our goal was to split the two games in New York and now we have the best pitcher in the game starting for us (in Game 3)."

That would be right-hander Pedro Martinez.

"If I had to pick one pitcher on the planet to win one game and my life depended on it," Sauerbeck said, "it would be Pedro on the mound."

"We've got our warrior going," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "We feel great and have a lot of confidence. Now we can get back to our place. We'll just battle our butts off and try to get back on top."

Left-handed reliever Alan Embree said, "We wanted to get one win in New York and after winning the first game, were hoping to win two. As it turned out, we had to take the consolation prize back with us."

With right-hander Roger Clemens set to start Game 3 and the Yankees tying the series at one game apiece with Thursday night's 6-2 win, the Red Sox realize the difficult task ahead -- even with Martinez.

"We have a long way to go, but we feel good about the way we're playing," said Varitek, who had two hits -- including his second postseason home run -- in Game 2. "At least we got one in New York. This team won't panic."

They especially won't panic with three straight home games straight ahead.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League baseball or its clubs.



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