Sure, the Red Sox were in this same position their past two times in the ALCS -- 2004 and '07 -- and heroically lived to tell about it. But they were hoping to avoid the high-wire act this time around.
But now, they have no choice. This after Tim Wakefield's knuckleball betrayed him to the point that he didn't make it through the third inning. And this after the Boston bats again came out cold, which is the temperature they've been stuck at since the sixth inning of Game 2. It added up to a thoroughly humbling 13-4 defeat on Tuesday night, marking the second successive day the Red Sox have been stomped on at Fenway Park. The Rays won Game 3, 9-1.
"We've been here before," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "It's definitely not easy, especially the way the last two games went. I think you really find out what your team is made of when your back is against the wall. Our back is definitely against that."
Trailing, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series, Boston's only path to the World Series would be to win Game 5 at Fenway Park on Thursday and then take Games 6 and 7 at Tropicana Field on Saturday and Sunday.
Eleven out of the 15 teams that have held a 3-1 lead in the ALCS since 1985 have gone on to the World Series. Three of the four times, it was the Red Sox -- 1986, 2004 and '07 -- that came back.
"It leaves a sense of belief," said Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek.
Worst back-to-back Sox losses in 2008
|Oct. 13-14||T.B.||9-1, 13-4||17|
|Sept. 26, 28||NYY||19-8, 6-2||15|
|Aug. 16-17||Tor.||4-1, 15-4||14|
|April 5-6||at Tor.||10-2, 7-4||11|
|July 29-30||LAA||6-2, 9-2||11|
Still, the defending World Series champion Red Sox realize the mountain they must climb is a daunting one. The Rays are on fire in every facet of the game.
"It's going to be a tough situation," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "Playing the game like that is hard. It definitely doesn't feel good."
After winning Game 1 behind a dazzling pitching performance by Daisuke Matsuzaka, it's hard to believe the Red Sox would be stuck in this position. Then again, they beat the Indians in Game 1 behind an equally impressive performance by Josh Beckett last year before losing the next three. Beckett started the road to recovery a year ago by firing a gem in Game 5, and now it will be up to Matsuzaka to do the same.
As for this game, Wakefield did the exact thing he was hoping to avoid, which was pin his team in an early hole. With one on and one out in the first, Carlos Pena hit a towering two-run homer to left. Evan Longoria followed with a Green Monster shot of his own, making it 3-0 before the Red Sox even took a swing against Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine.
Though Wakefield settled down briefly for a 1-2-3 second, the Rays jumped right back on him in the third. With two outs, Wakefield was close to a 1-2-3 inning when Carl Crawford hit a roller between the mound and the first-base line. Wakefield dove face-first to get the ball, but his shovel throw to first was not in time. Willy Aybar followed by nailing a two-run shot over the Monster Seats and onto Lansdowne Street to make it 5-0. Dioner Navarro followed with a hard single off the wall in left, and that was all for Wakefield.
"It hurts," said Wakefield. "Obviously, down, 2-1, you want to even the series up as much as possible. I put us in too deep of a hole."
|* Won final two on the road.|
Red Sox manager Terry Francona called on Justin Masterson, who is usually deployed in the mid-to-late innings. After the righty got the final out of the third, Kevin Cash got Boston on the board by leading off the bottom of the inning with a solo homer over the Monster.
Cash became the first Red Sox player to hit a homer in his first postseason at-bat since Todd Walker in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the A's in 2003.
Other than that, the offense, which had a new look with J.D. Drew leading off and Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench, couldn't get anything established.
"It was tough," said Francona. "Sitting through that wasn't a whole lot of fun. We've been on the other side. When it happens to you, you've got to get through it the best you can. And we'll need to regroup as quickly as we can."
Masterson settled things down for the Red Sox, giving up one run over 2 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out four. However, the offense couldn't get Boston any closer and it all fell apart after Masterson's exit. Manny Delcarmen was hammered for five runs in a back-breaking sixth inning, and the Red Sox were in a gaping 11-1 hole.
"This team is a surprise," said Ortiz. "Everybody is raking in their lineup. Everybody pretty much is locked in. I've been in a lot of playoffs and you don't see that too often. You might see three or four guys hot, you know what I mean? Everybody doing it, [and] that's crazy. Man, taking pitches, swinging at strikes -- it doesn't get better than that."
Only after they were down 10 runs did the offense begin to show some spark against Sonnanstine. In the bottom of the seventh, Ortiz snapped his 0-for-12 drought in the ALCS with a triple to right. Kevin Youkilis drove him in with a fielder's-choice grounder.
Wakefield, Ortiz, Mike Timlin, Youkilis and Varitek -- the five players who remain from the 2004 team -- can remember the Yankees playing with similar swagger in the early stages of that ALCS, which the Red Sox trailed, 3-0, before making history.
"We've been in this situation before," Wakefield said. "We've been down 3-0 and come back and won, so it's going to take a group effort Thursday. Hopefully we can get it done."
Does history mean anything?
"You can rely on history. History repeats itself," said Timlin. "That's what I've heard. Go with that."
But the Red Sox also know that it's going to take a huge improvement in execution.
"They swung the bats great tonight early and kind of put us on our heels a little bit," said Pedroia. "We're still playing. We've got to find a way to win, otherwise our season is over."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.