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10/19/08 2:43 AM EST

Sox do their best work under pressure

In elimination games, Boston is 9-for-10 under Francona

ST. PETERSBURG -- Kevin Youkilis leaned across his seat on the Red Sox's team bus the other night and, catching the eye of Jason Varitek, mouthed these words: "We're so spoiled."

Most teams find 3-1 series deficits too daunting to overcome, already pushed to the brink. Not these Red Sox. For reasons even they can't fully comprehend, Boston doesn't seem to show its best until last call.

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After being seven outs away from the offseason and coming back to win Game 5 on Thursday and then scoring a 4-2 victory in Game 6 on Saturday, the Red Sox are ready to try and do it all over again by forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 showdown vs. the Rays on Sunday.

"It's really amazing -- the games we've played and how much fun it's been," Youkilis said. "When we're all old and our children are all grown up, we'll sit around and talk about games like [Game 5], coming back. It's a wild ride. We're very spoiled. A lot of guys would love to be in our position."

The Red Sox have now known for two games that they must win or go home, having been pinned by the Rays after losing Game 2 at Tropicana Field and then the first two at Fenway Park.

"A couple of nights ago," Dustin Pedroia admitted on Saturday, "we were not thinking we were going to be at Game 6."

But Boston's eight unanswered runs in Game 5 and its sharp victory in Game 6 made it 9-for-10 in elimination games under manager Terry Francona, including five straight.

"We've gotten ourselves into a lot of predicaments, and fortunately, we've had the ability to get out of them," Francona said. "There's no other choice. But that gets a little big-pictureish. I think the best way to go about it is play the game at hand. We do it all year, and there's no reason to change that philosophy now, because that's the only way."

Francona in elimination games
The Red Sox are 9-1 in elimination games under manager Terry Francona.
2005ALDSWhite Sox3Lost

When the Red Sox fell down, 3-1, in the series to the Rays, optimism still crept through the ancient crannies of Fenway Park. A been-there, done-that mentality ruled the streets of Boston -- after all, the Red Sox rallied from the dead to win four straight and topple the hated Yankees in 2004, then fell into a two-game deficit to the Indians in 2007 before vaulting to their second World Series title of the decade.

"Everybody is pulling for each other," Varitek said. "It's been a total group effort. It's baseball. It's what you grow up wanting to do. All these games are, every one of them."

Now, the Red Sox stand just nine innings away from again proving that they play their best when the situation is worst, hoping for another crack at the Fall Classic and an October date with the Phillies. Yet they cannot count on momentum alone.

"We have been in there before, and we know what it takes to win games," David Ortiz said. "It's not easy. It's not like we like to be in this situation, but I guess that's the way our destiny has been the past few years that we've won the World Series. It's hard, man. It's not an easy thing to do. You don't want to be there. We'll see what happens tomorrow."

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
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 that 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, as the Red Sox staved off elimination for another day. It was all they could do, and at the time, it was enough.

Been there, done that
Six times a team rallying from 3-1 to 3-3 has taken the series in seven games, most recently the 2007 Red Sox. Boston is the only franchise to rally from multiple 3-1 deficits (1986, 2004, '07) to win an LCS.
After Gm 4
Gm 5
Gm 6
Gm 7
'85 ALCSTor., 3-1K.C., 2-0K.C., 5-3K.C., 6-2
'86 ALCSCal., 3-1Bos., 7-6Bos., 10-4Bos., 8-1
'96 NLCSStl., 3-1Atl., 14-0Atl., 3-1Atl., 15-0
'03 NLCSChi., 3-1Fla., 4-0Fla., 8-3Fla., 9-6
'04 ALCSNYY, 3-1Bos., 5-4Bos., 4-2Bos., 10-3
'07 ALCSCle., 3-1Bos., 7-1Bos., 12-2Bos., 11-2

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 Boston 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 Red 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.

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 Boston to its first AL pennant in 18 years. The Sox 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.

Red Sox in Game 6s
With a win Saturday vs. the Rays, the Red Sox are 8-0 in Game 6s when they are trailing 3-2 in a best-of-seven or best-of-nine postseason series.
YearSeriesFoeGame 6Series
1903WSPittsburghWonWon in 8
1967WSSt. LouisWonLost in 7
1975WSCincinnatiWonLost in 7
1986ALCSCaliforniaWonWon in 7
2003ALCSNew YorkWonLost in 7
2004ALCSNew YorkWonWon in 7
2007ALCSClevelandWonWon in 7

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 AL Division Series. 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 Sunday, 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.

ALCS Game 6: Red Sox 12, Indians 2
Oct. 20, 2007
A second consecutive 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 J.D. 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 that 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.

ALCS Game 6: Red Sox 4, Rays 2
Oct. 18, 2008
Win or go home once more, the Red Sox did not trail after the first inning, as Youkilis tied the game with a second-inning home run and an Ortiz double preceded an RBI groundout in the third. Beckett threw just 78 pitches, but he got through five innings of two-run ball, and Varitek came up with the go-ahead home run off James Shields in the sixth inning. A Big Papi RBI single scored Boston's fourth run and three Red Sox relievers made it stand up, bringing Game 7 on Sunday to Tropicana Field to close out the ALCS.

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