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Boston Medical Group. Lowell is out, Drew has been hurting and Beckett labored through his first-round start. These Red Sox play their best ball in October, but they're not at full strength. Can they keep up with the energetic Rays in a long series?
Tricks At The Trop. Tropicana Field, with its catwalks and artificial turf, is hosting playoff games for the first time this year. Tampa Bay has prospered in the wacky dome, compiling the best home record (57-24) in the majors during the regular season and then winning both home games against Chicago in the first round. A tricky bounce or two could turn the series.
New Balance. Youkilis provided unexpected punch in the cleanup spot after Ramirez was traded, but the Red Sox don't rely on homers. They generate offense with tough at-bats and pure speed. Ellsbury, Pedroia and Crisp were the first Boston trio to steal at least 20 bases apiece since 1914. Ellsbury's total was the third-highest in team history behind Tommy Harper (54) and Tris Speaker (52).
Big Stick. Pena was the AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2007 with 46 homers and 121 RBIs. He got off to a slow start this season but has raised his play since the All-Star break, hitting 17 homers and providing clutch hits. A patient hitter, he drew nine walks with the bases loaded, most in the majors since 1957. After he scratched his cornea at home, slightly blurred vision in his left eye kept Pena out of the lineup early in the first round, but he had five hits in the final two games. The slugger also played 18 games for Boston in 2006.
Red Sox: In the ALCS for the fourth time since 2003, Boston is looking for its second consecutive World Series title and third in five years. Quite a run of success after 86 years without a championship. ... The wild-card Red Sox (95-67) dispatched the 100-win Los Angeles Angels 3-1 in the best-of-five division series after losing the final eight of their nine regular-season meetings. That's a good omen for Boston, which won World Series crowns in 2004 and 2007 after sweeping the Angels in the first round of the playoffs. ... Now missing Lowell, Ramirez and Curt Schilling, these Red Sox reached the ALCS behind a new breed that includes Bay, Lowrie and Lester. Playing in his first postseason, Bay was 7-for-17 (.412) against the Angels with 2 homers, 2 doubles and 5 RBIs. He scored the series-winning run on a ninth-inning single by Lowrie, a rookie who went 4-for-11 (.364). Lester pitched 14 innings without allowing an earned run and struck out 11. A cancer survivor, he also won the 2007 World Series clincher against Colorado. ... Papelbon fanned 7 in 5 scoreless innings, earning a win and a save. Ellsbury led the team with 6 RBIs. Ortiz, Youkilis, Varitek and Pedroia (1-for-17) struggled at the plate. ... A proven star in the postseason, Beckett was pushed back to Game 3 against Los Angeles after hurting a muscle in his side during a bullpen session. He lasted only 5 innings, allowing 4 runs, 9 hits and 4 walks. Beckett is 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA and 3 complete games in 11 postseason starts. He has 88 strikeouts in 77 2-3 innings. ... Drew has been bothered by a strained lower back, but he hit the decisive homer off Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning of Game 2. ... Papelbon has been solid again as the closer. The rest of the bullpen has struggled at times but was strong late in the season. ... Wakefield, a knuckleballer, could be in the bullpen again. He is 1-1 with an 8.25 ERA as a reliever during his postseason career. ... The Red Sox once again sold out every game this season, and set a major league record for consecutive home regular-season sellouts.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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