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10/15/08 5:21 PM ET

Red Sox can't wait to play Game 5

Off-day serves as chance to put past away, anticipate challenge

BOSTON -- Contrary to local belief, the sun indeed came up over Fenway Park on Wednesday morning, less than 12 hours after the Red Sox took a pounding and positioned the upstart Rays one win away from the World Series.

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As glum as the atmosphere seemed in Boston's home clubhouse on Tuesday, after starter Tim Wakefield was shellacked and Tampa Bay posted a 13-spot on the Green Monster, the Olde Town team went through their paces and spit on the idea of licking their wounds in the crisp October air.

"I think they wish we were playing in about 10 minutes," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It's good. It's very good. It's enthusiastic. I mean, we'll play tomorrow, because that's when we're supposed to, but I think everybody is ready to play right now, which is what I was hoping for."

"Guys came out and got their work in," Jason Varitek said. "Everybody is going about their business like we normally do. There's a sense of excitement."

With Game 5 on tap for Thursday night, the captain noted that belief reigns, and with good reason. Winning three games in a row is no more foreign than the Citgo sign to the Red Sox.

Fifteen times during the regular season, the Red Sox won at least three straight games. They had one winning streak of seven, two streaks of five, three streaks of four, and nine streaks of three.

Just a string of that last variety would get the job done here, necessitating the fueling of a charter jet on the runway out at Logan Airport. The Red Sox would never be happier to stare up at the catwalk-filled white sky in St. Petersburg, their eardrums ringing with incessant cowbell clanging.

"Just win -- go out there and win Thursday, and keep on going," David Ortiz said. "I think it's pretty much the same situation. We're down 3-1 and just come back and play.

"You've got to stay positive. You can't be feeling negative. It's not worth it."

Daisuke Matsuzaka
2008 regular season
Overall 27 GS, 12-8, 3.49 ERA, 72 BB, 166 K28 GS, 18-3, 2.90 ERA, 94 BB, 154 K
Key stat 166 K
(10th in AL)
.211 OPP BA (1st in AL)
2008 2 GS, 1-0, 6.522 GS, 1-0, 2.25
Career 2 GS, 1-0, 6.526 GS, 3-1, 3.98
At Fenway Park
2008 2 GS, 0-1,
4.50 ERA
16 GS, 9-3, 3.34 ERA
Career 11 GS, 4-4, 3.02 ERA30 GS, 17-7, 4.10 ERA
Against this opponent (including ALCS)
2008 5 GS, 0-2, 8.034 GS, 2-0, 2.05
Career 22 GS, 6-7, 3.86 ERA 9 GS, 3-3,
3.27 ERA
Loves to face David Ortiz (8-for-40)B.J. Upton (1-for-13)
Hates to face Dustin Pedroia (16-for-28)Akinori Iwamura (9-for-24)
Why he'll win Big moment pitcher Seven shutout innings in Game 1 win
Of course, in the postseason, the Red Sox have been familiar with this position. Having had their backs to the wall before may only offer mixed encouragement, depending on who is asked, but it does provide a measure of solace and a point of reference to work from.

"It leaves a sense of belief everywhere," Varitek said.

In a comeback that spawned countless knockoff T-shirts, Boston was down three games to the Yankees in 2004 before pulling off the greatest ALCS rally of all-time. The Red Sox also went into an off-day last year trailing 3-1 before running off three straight wins against the Indians to vault into the World Series.

That respite between Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS was marked by Manny Ramirez opining that it would not be the end of the world if the Red Sox did not advance, which of course they did.

Just to see if lightning could strike twice, Ortiz announced on his way out of the clubhouse Tuesday night: "Hey, it's not the end of the world, guys," and then paused to allow a grin to slip across his face. "That [stuff] worked last year," he said.

"I believe that what we did last year, if we can draw on anything from that, good," Francona said. "Anything that's happened in your past, you try to turn it into an advantage for you. Saying that, this is a different team, it's a different Tampa team, but again, we'll use anything we can to give us any kind of advantage. That's our responsibility."

There was a sense that, having been outpounded 13-4, the off-day might serve the Red Sox well.

"Hopefully the off-day will cool them down a little bit, we'll come back in the right mode and try to win Game 5," Kevin Youkilis said. "That's all we're trying to do. We've been here before and that's always our mind-set, to try and win one game. We've just got to come out in Game 5 and throw the ball well and play defense."

Tampa Bay's offense has punished Boston pitching for nine runs or more in each of the last three games played between the two clubs, and if a crimson-wearing pitcher couldn't cool off the sparking Rays, perhaps an afternoon without nine innings to play would.

"Hitting can get very contagious," Francona said. "Somebody gets a hit, you get them out of the stretch, and all of a sudden you get a real hot team -- that's what we need to do. That's what Tampa has done. They have gotten on a roll. You see guys with confidence. That's a tough way to play a team. We need to eliminate some of that confidence and get something going on our side and get on a roll."

The Rays did not set foot on the field Wednesday, opting to leave the diamond to the Red Sox for an optional session. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, who gave way to wide grins in the late innings as Boston fans again streamed for the streets, said that in an ideal world, there'd be baseball played on Yawkey Way on Wednesday, before any of the fortune could turn.

The Red Sox's winning streaks in 2008
Winning three straight games is not a daunting task for the Red Sox. Not only have they done it three times in coming back for postseason series triumphs, they made a habit of it during the 2008 regular season -- doing it a whopping 15 times in a 95-win campaign.
Length of streak Number of times
Seven games1
Five games2
Four games 3
Three games 9
"Of course, you'd like to keep it rolling," Maddon said. "But again, you knew the schedule coming into it, so your mind is prepped in that regard, regardless of what happened yesterday. A team that has been playing well always wants to continue to play. Somebody that's had a bump would prefer a day off. That's just normal stuff."

Maddon has done a wonderful job of insulating his clubhouse and creating a dynamic where anything is possible -- motivational sayings, like "9 = 8," are in, at the expense of basic mathematics. But who is to say the off-day won't give the Rays time to realize what they are so tantalizingly close to accomplishing?

Youkilis said that the allotted time may just work in the Red Sox's favor.

"We hope -- it's going to have to," Youkilis said. "I can't tell you if it's going to hurt or help, but hopefully it hurts them more than us. They're on fire right now, so hopefully it will cool them off and get us going. The big thing is to go out for Game 5 and win."

As bat cracks echoed hollow through the empty Fenway diamond, the only activity in the grandstands was a lone worker, hosing down seats in the crisp October air.

The last Boston player on the field was Mike Timlin, throwing batting practice as his 8-year-old son, Jake, took right-handed cuts at the Green Monster from short center field, littering baseballs across the grassy expanse. It was just a few hours earlier that Timlin had turned philosophic in the Red Sox's clubhouse, forecasting a sunny-side-up disposition that would indeed appear.

"It comes to a point where the game is over and you've just got to let it go," Timlin said. "You look at it like, they've got all of their hits, they've got all of their runs. The next time, it's our turn. The next two or three times, it's our turn."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.