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10/17/08 5:30 PM ET

Red Sox save best for must-wins

ALCS vs. Rays latest chapter in string of elimination victories

For most of those watching in Boston and around the country late Thursday night, Game 5 of the American League Championship Series became something remarkable -- a bit of October magic, perhaps, if such a thing exists. But for the Red Sox, it was simply business as usual.

When J.D. Drew singled home the winning run in the ninth inning, capping a seven-run comeback against the Rays and extending the series for at least one more game, he gave the Red Sox their fourth straight victory when facing postseason elimination. Since manager Terry Francona took over prior to the 2004 season, in fact, the Sox have gone 8-1 in so-called elimination games.

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The most famous of those came in 2004, when the Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS to beat the Yankees, staving off elimination in four consecutive games in the process. Then they nearly duplicated the feat last year, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to the Indians in the ALCS.

"We've been coming from behind a lot of times," designated hitter David Ortiz said just after Game 5. "But this was a great win, and we've got to keep playing."

Whatever the cause of their resilience -- attitude, experience, skill or just plain luck -- the Red Sox have shown an ability to play their best when the situation is worst. And that much should help them this weekend, considering the Sox still must stave off elimination for two more games just to have a crack at the Phillies in the World Series.

But even while the Sox are looking forward, it seems significant to look back on the playoff games that have shaped this team's modern legacy:

ALCS Game 4: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4 (12 innings)
Oct. 17, 2004

Francona in elimination games
The Red Sox are 8-1 in elimination games under manager Terry Francona.
2005ALDSWhite Sox3Lost

The Red Sox's rallying cry -- down, 3-0, in the 2004 ALCS -- was, "Why not us?" And there seemed to be plenty of reasons why not, from the 19 runs Boston allowed to New York in Game 3, to Curt Schilling's injured right ankle, to the simple fact that it hadn't won a World Series in 86 seasons. None of that disappeared when Ortiz hit a walk-off home run off Paul Quantrill in the 12th inning of Game 4, but the Red Sox did stave off elimination for another day. It was all they could do, and at the time, it was enough.

ALCS Game 5: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4 (14 innings)
Oct. 18, 2004
If Red Sox fans tempered their excitement after Game 4, they must have found it rather difficult to do the same after Game 5. For the second successive night, Ortiz sent the Sox home winners in extra innings, this time punching a walk-off single into center field to give the Sox yet another dramatic win. Ortiz also hit a home run to spark a game-tying rally in the eighth inning and the Sox, though still behind, managed to send the best-of-seven series back to New York.

ALCS Game 6: Red Sox 4, Yankees 2
Oct. 19, 2004
In one of the more memorable pitching performances in baseball history, Schilling fired seven innings of one-run ball with blood seeping out of his sutured right ankle, helping the Sox become the first team in history to force a Game 7 after trailing, 3-0, in a best-of-seven series. All the offense came for Boston in one chunk -- and the club didn't even need most of it. Schilling was brilliant, the bullpen held and the Yankees and Sox prepared to play a historic Game 7 the following night.

Red Sox in Game 5s
With a win Thursday vs. the Rays, the Red Sox are 6-1 in Game 5s when they are trailing 3-1 in a best-of-seven or best-of-nine postseason series.
YearSeriesFoeGame 5Series
1903WSPittsburghWonWon in 8
1967WSSt. LouisWonLost in 7
1986ALCSCaliforniaWonWon in 7
1999ALCSNew YorkLostLost in 5
2003ALCSNew YorkLostLost in 7
2004ALCSNew YorkWonWon in 7
2007ALCSClevelandWonWon in 7

ALCS Game 7: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3
Oct. 20, 2004
Given the dramatic nature of each of the previous three games, it seemed only fitting that Game 7 should be equally tense. And it was -- for all of two innings, until Johnny Damon sent a grand slam hurtling toward Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch, lifting the Red Sox to their first AL pennant in 18 years. They became the first team in baseball history to erase a three-game deficit in a best-of-seven series, then swept the Cardinals in the Fall Classic to win their first World Series championship since 1918.

ALDS Game 3: White Sox 5, Red Sox 3
Oct. 7, 2005
No magic was present the following year for the Red Sox, who fell to the White Sox in three games in the 2005 ALDS. Facing elimination during the only game at Fenway Park, the Sox fell behind and never recovered when Paul Konerko hit a two-run home run off Tim Wakefield in the sixth inning. By night's end, Boston had lost its first -- and, entering Saturday, its only -- elimination game under Francona.

ALCS Game 5: Red Sox 7, Indians 1
Oct. 18, 2007
By the time the Red Sox faced the Indians in 2007 with a trip to the World Series on the line, they were a vastly different team from the one that beat the Yankees back in 2004. They plugged Josh Beckett into the rotation, they promoted Jonathan Papelbon into the closer's role and they watched as those two teamed up to beat the Indians in Game 5 of the ALCS, with Beckett striking out 11 in eight innings and Papelbon finishing things in the ninth, sending the series home to Boston.

Remarkable rallies
Biggest deficits overcome in postseason history
AthleticsCubs10/12/29WS 4810-8
Red SoxRays10/16/08ALCS 578-7
YankeesBraves10/23/96WS 468-6
DodgersYankees10/5/56WS 2613-8

ALCS Game 6: Red Sox 12, Indians 2
Oct. 20, 2007
A second successive blowout took all the tension out of a second successive elimination game, with the Red Sox scoring 10 runs in the first two innings to send Fausto Carmona to an early exit and advance to Game 7. Equally impressive was the work of Schilling, who fired seven effective innings to keep a dangerous Indians offense at bay. And Drew, perhaps hinting at elimination game successes to come, produced three hits and knocked in five runs.

ALCS Game 7: Red Sox 11, Indians 2
Oct. 21, 2007
For the second time in four seasons, the Red Sox capped an improbable comeback with a blowout in Game 7 of the ALCS. This one was closer than the final score made it seem, considering the Sox scored six runs off Indians pitching in the eighth inning. It was so close, in fact, that Francona turned to Papelbon for a six-out save, which he needed only 16 pitches to achieve. And so, for the second time in four seasons, the Sox advanced to a World Series they would win with relative ease.

ALCS Game 5: Red Sox 8, Rays 7
Oct. 16, 2008
For the first time in an elimination game under Francona, the Red Sox found themselves on the wrong end of a blowout -- then came four runs in the seventh inning and another three in the eighth, before Drew sent the Sox back to Tropicana Field with his walk-off single in the ninth. It marked the fourth straight time the Sox had won an elimination game in the past five years and the eighth time they had done it in their past nine tries. And because of it, on Saturday, they will face elimination yet again.

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