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10/15/08 3:01 PM ET

What's familiar to Sox is foreign to Rays

Boston hopes recent history repeats; Tampa Bay nears Series

BOSTON -- The Tampa Bay Rays have spent a week turning every perceived Red Sox advantage -- their postseason experience, their October-tested pitchers, their Green Monster -- against them.

This is no time to stop.

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So, when they show up for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday at 8:07 p.m. ET, the Red Sox will be looking at Scott Kazmir.

The Rays' original plan called for right-hander James Shields, who in Game 1 had muffled Boston on six hits for 7 1/3 innings, but who has lost all three of his Fenway Park starts while allowing 12 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings.

But by taking advantage of Wednesday's break in the ALCS schedule, Joe Maddon was able to switch tracks to Kazmir, the left-hander who has had consistent success at Fenway Park.

So much for the Red Sox banking on the off-day between Games 4 and 5 to reverse the tempo of the series -- as was the case last year, when it marked the starting point of their comeback from a 3-1 deficit to the Cleveland Indians.

Indeed, the rest may yet work against the Rays by giving the young club a chance to digest what they have done and where they are -- specifically, in the middle of angst-ridden Boston.

"Our team is real loose. It's kind of like we don't even realize the situation that we're in right now," Kazmir said. "We're just out there having fun and just playing our game."

Manager Terry Francona reported from Boston's closed clubhouse that his men were eager to play in 10 minutes if need be, and weren't crazy about the forced delay.

"Everybody is ready to play right now, which is what I was hoping for. They're enthusiastic," said Francona, who shrugged off the Tampa Bay pitching change that will slightly alter his own lineup.

"Our job is to win regardless of who's pitching, whether it's Shields, Kazmir," Francona said. "I don't think we put a whole lot of ... they can do whatever they want. That's their right."

In making the change, Maddon actually implied that Kazmir would need more bullpen help than might have Shields -- and coming off a day of rest will endow him with the support of rested relievers.

Fenway Park, Thursday, 8:07 p.m. ET
Rays starter: LHP Scott Kazmir
2008: 12-8, 3.49 ERA
2008 on the road: 4-6, 4.10 ERA
2008 vs. Red Sox: 0-2, 9.00 ERA (four starts)
Career vs. Red Sox: 6-7, 3.62 ERA (21 starts)
2008 postseason: 1-0, 6.52 ERA
Career postseason: 1-0, 6.52 ERA
Red Sox starter: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
2008: 18-3, 2.90 ERA
2008 at home: 9-3, 3.34 ERA
2008 vs. Rays: 2-0, 2.05 ERA (four starts)
Career vs. Rays: 3-3, 3.27 ERA (nine starts)
2008 postseason: 1-0, 2.25 ERA
Career postseason: 3-1, 3.98 ERA
Rays lead series, 3-1. Out of the 19 AL Championship Series that didn't end in a four-game sweep, the winner of Game 4 has won the series 14 times. One of the exceptions was last year's Red Sox, who overcame a 3-1 series deficit to beat Cleveland three straight times and advance to the World Series.
Game 1: Red Sox 2, Rays 0
Game 2: Rays 9, Red Sox 8 (11 innings)
Game 3: Rays 9, Red Sox 1
Game 4: Rays 13, Red Sox 4
Did You Know? The Red Sox allowed just two home runs in their first five games this postseason, but the Rays have homered 10 times in the last three games of this series.

"We like the fact that he's pitching with an open day [on Friday, should the ALCS shift back to Tampa Bay for a Game 6 on Saturday], with the ability to utilize the entire bullpen," Maddon said. "We also like the idea of him pitching here, and we like the idea of Shields being able to pitch at home, if necessary."

Back when the calendar turned into October, Maddon had prepped his young club for the emotional swings of the postseason by sermonizing on the 1960 World Series -- the one the Pittsburgh Pirates won amid three blowout losses.

Who knew Maddon was projecting the Rays to play the part of the '60 Yankees? The Bombers won games by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0?

But there were the Rays, putting consecutive 9-1 and 13-4 hurts on the Red Sox.

And here are the Red Sox, in a familiar jam.

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.

It isn't like the Red Sox want to make a habit of leaping to life just as the closing credits start to roll, like the die-hard villain in some cheap horror flick.

This isn't by choice.

But, for the third time in five Octobers, Boston faces a daunting comeback road, a journey that Daisuke Matsuzaka will have to kick-start.

The 2004 Yankees and the '07 Indians have been run over on that road, but the '08 Rays won't be hearing any cautionary tales from their manager.

Maddon is well-read, and one of his favorite subjects impressed him with the proper way to handle such situations: From John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, he learned the importance of focusing on yourself.

"As opposed to us being worried about what the Red Sox may think or do," Maddon said, "I would much prefer that we focus on our game plan and our planning."

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

By taking the first two games at Fenway Park, the Rays have assured Tropicana Field of hosting more 2008 baseball. The only question is, will the next game there be the continuation of the ALCS or the start of the (gulp!) World Series?

Prospects of that are reminiscent of the 2007 NLCS, as fans in Coors Field hyperventilated while watching the final innings of the Rockies' sweep over the D-backs.

"The World Series ... coming here?! I can't believe it," they said while making their dazed ways through the stands. "I've watched it on TV all these years, and in a couple of days now they'll be painting that World Series logo on this field."

So within a couple miles of the district known as Back Bay, the Red Sox must begin to come back against Tampa Bay.

Francona doesn't care how they do it. Francona doesn't care who does it, whether a stingy pitching effort or an offensive breakout delivers that turn-around win.

He just wants the win.

"I think we're just concerned about winning," he said. "Whether we do it 1-0, 2-1 or 11-10, it really doesn't matter. We just need to find a way to get a win. If we get a bunch of hits, yeah, it'll make it easier."

Matsuzaka gives them that hope because, before the Rays began abusing Boston's other starters, he had pitched brilliantly in the 2-0 Game 1 victory.

All the Red Sox offense asks of Dice-K is the opportunity to take a lead for a change.

Despite Tuesday night's blowout loss, the Red Sox came out of it with a good, forward-looking feeling. Although held to seven hits by Andy Sonnanstine and a couple of relievers, the Sox felt they had at least as many hard shots that just didn't find any holes.

"A loss like that is easier to swallow than a 9-8 heartbreaker," said Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, alluding to the Game 2 defeat in 11 innings. "A lot of our guys hit the ball hard, without having much to show for it. We didn't get a lot of bleeder hits [like the Rays did].

"I feel like we had a lot of great at-bats. But when they score 13 ... it's tough to win games like that."

In his series-opening assignment, Matsuzaka survived tempting the Rays with fits of wildness. He even wound up holding them hitless into the seventh inning.

That was a different, tentative team. Against the aggressive crew now on display, Dice-K is unlikely to get away with walking the bases loaded in the first.

Matsuzaka has no plans to deviate from his patience-testing routine.

"Even if I have to throw a lot of pitches, I'm going to do my best to throw to quality spots and keep them guessing and keep them off-balance," said Matsuzaka, who again will try to exploit the Rays' normal aggression at the plate. "But I won't be going into it with the exact same game plan as Game 1."

Maddon won't dwell either on Dice-K's recent success against his club, nor Boston's demonstrated comeback ability.

"I know a lot of times in these moments you're going to draw parallels and comparisons," Maddon said. "But every situation is unique unto itself. I prefer not worrying about what happened in the past."

Well, not the near past. On the other hand, 1960 is fair game.

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