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Rays put pox on Sox

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BOSTON – To paraphrase Rick Pitino from his days as the unlamented coach of the Celtics, Johnny Damon, Keith Foulke and the Big Schill won't be walking through that door.

The Bloody Sock has given way to bloodied noses. Mystique and Aura, Fenway style, were cadging quarters in Kenmore Square before catching the Green Line T out of town, a one-way ride.

Stephen King couldn't bear to watch this horror show. Doris Kearns Goodwin won't author this sorry slice of history. John W. Henry might change his middle initial to an "L."

That championship belt worn by the Boston Red Sox twice in the last four years is now looped around their ankles, and there's little to break their fall.

They've been here before – down three games to one, elimination looming as large as the Citgo sign beyond the Green Monster, only to live to play again. It happened in 1986, it happened in 2004, it happened in 2007.

"History repeats itself, that's what I've heard, so we'll go with that," reliever Mike Timlin said.

But after absorbing a this-can't-be-happening-again 13-4 beating Tuesday night at the hands of the worst-to-first-to-suddenly otherworldly Tampa Bay Rays, who look so comfortable in Fenway Park they should install Barcaloungers in the visiting dugout, these Red Sox look undermanned and overwhelmed.

There indeed may be history in the remaking, but it looks like it will be told by the Rays, bidding to duplicate the Minnesota Twins' rise from bottom-feeders to World Series champions in 1991.

"Well, I told you guys this team is a boxful of surprises," said David Ortiz, Boston's struggling strongman, who could have homered in each of his four at-bats and the outcome wouldn't have been different, the Rays seizing a 5-0 lead by the third inning for the second straight game.

"Everyone is raking in their lineup," said Ortiz, who broke an 0-for-14 slump with a triple in the seventh. "You watch the game, and everybody is pretty much locked in. I've been in a lot of playoffs, and you don't see that too often.

"I see maybe three or four guys hit, but everybody, bro? It's crazy. Damn, man, they're taking pitches, swinging at strikes. It can't get better than that."

Four batters into the game, it was 3-0, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria taking turns swatting Tim Wakefield knuckleballs as if they were badminton birdies strapped onto cruise missiles. In the third inning, Willy Aybar hit a ball as far as he has in his life, the ball showing up on air traffic controller screens at Logan Airport before landing atop a parking garage across Landsdowne Street.

"Knowing how badly we needed to win, it hurts – it hurts a lot," said Wakefield, who became the oldest pitcher (42 years, 73 days) to start an ALCS game and by the end of his night, which included jamming his neck while sprawling to field an infield roller by Carl Crawford, was looking every bit like a man whose mailbox is stuffed with letters from the AARP.

For the second straight night, the Rays made a normally frenetic Fenway as quiet as the Boston Public Library. Carl Crawford had five hits. Aybar had five RBIs. The Rays have scored 31 runs in the last three games, 22 the last two nights in Fenway, a place in which, before taking two out of three in September, they had not won a series since 1999.

The Sox had not given up nine or more runs in back-to-back games all season. Now it's three in a row and counting, the Rays lacking only a nickname to compare to the Bronx Bombers, who laid a 19-8 beating on the Red Sox in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.

"Well, the problem is everybody's focusing on Papi not hitting," Ortiz said, "and to tell you the truth, both of these series, with Anaheim and now the Rays, Papi doesn't come through with men on base all the time.

"I mean, I might come to hit four or five times with a man on second, but that's not going to change the game, when you have a lead of nine or 10 runs, or whatever they're scoring right now. What we need to focus on right now is stopping their offense."

The Red Sox tried to play it loose before the game. Kevin Youkilis and Coco Crisp threw a football around in the clubhouse, and most everyone seemed to project an air of nonchalance. A more somber note was struck, however, with the announcement that third baseman Mike Lowell, last season's World Series MVP, would be undergoing hip surgery next week, his season brought to a crashing, though expected, halt – Lowell had been playing in pain since before the All-Star game and could barely walk the last couple of weeks.

(And you wonder why the Red Sox clubhouse roiled when Manny Ramirez faked a knee injury and boasted to teammates of how much time he planned to take off?)

Lowell out, Ortiz hurting, Josh Beckett a shadow of himself. These are not the components of which historic comebacks are made.

Manager Terry Francona changed his lineup, dropping slumping Jacoby Ellsbury (0 for his last 20), inserting J.D. Drew in the leadoff spot, and putting Crisp in center field. Jason Varitek, 0 for his last 11 and 3 for 24 in the postseason, also sat, Kevin Cash as usual drawing the assignment of catching Wakefield.

None of it mattered.

"I won't say shell-shocked," Youkilis said. "I think it's just baseball. The Yankees were crushing us in '04, so we can't be shocked."

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who builds teams to qualify for the tournament with the caveat that things happen come October (injuries, hot teams, luck) that often are out of anyone's control, sat in a sofa in Francona's office, legs stretched out before him.

"You got 'em right where you want 'em," someone said, inanely.

Epstein smiled wanly.

"We'll see," he said.

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