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THIS ONE HURTS

A seemingly comfortable 7-0 lead evaporates as ALCS returns to Trop.

Being down three games to one apparently wasn't enough of a deficit for the Red Sox. So they waited until they were down seven runs in Thursday's Game 5, and with only seven outs remaining, to pull off one of the most stunning comebacks in postseason history.

J.D. Drew knocked in Kevin Youkilis with two outs in the ninth early this morning to give the Sox a most remarkable 8-7 victory.

And now it's up to the Rays, who have responded to every other challenge in their amazing season, to handle what may be the most threatening yet.

Game 6 is Saturday night at sold-out Tropicana Field, and the Rays will have to do everything they can, with James Shields on the mound, to stop the Sox from gaining any more momentum and forcing a seventh game.

"I don't think it will be that tough actually,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's one game. It's a loss. We were in a pretty good position to move on earlier in the game, and we gave it up. ... "Of course we're upset. Of course we don't like losing that game. But to dwell on it does no good whatsoever.''

"It's a tough pill to swallow, but I think we'll be okay,'' Evan Longoria said. "We've been in this situaiton before. Never this big, but I think we'll bounce back fine.''

The Sox won it with two outs in the ninth off J.P. Howell. Youkilis reached when Evan Longoria backhanded his bouncer to third but bounced his throw past Carlos Pena and into the stands. The Rays intentionally walked Jason Bay, then Drew, up 3-and-0, took a strike and then drove the next pitch over rightfielder Gabe Gross' head.

"we didn't blow it,'' Howell said. "They took it from us.''

"They had their way with us every way possible for six innings, and then this place became unglued,'' Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We've seen that before. But because of the situation we were in, that was pretty magical.''

The game started so well for the Rays.

Scott Kazmir validated decision to start him with six stellar shutout innings, allowing only two hits while striking out seven and walking three and throwing 111 pitches. But it was what happened after Maddon took him out with the 7-0 lead that didn't work out too well, as the Sox rallied for four runs off Grant Balfour in the seventh, then three more in the eighth off Dan Wheeler to tie it.

The Rays hitters, meanwhile, continued their stunning barrage, hitting three more home runs to make it a record 13 for the ALCS (surpassing the 12 by the 2003 Red Sox) and 19 for the postseason (sixth most all time). B.J. Upton led the way with his third homer of the series and a two-run double, giving him 10 RBIs for the five games. Only one other player, Don Baylor of the 1982 Angels, drove in that many in an ALCS of less than seven games.

The Sox, though, had some history on their side, having ovbercome a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in 2004 and a 3-1 hole last year against the Indians. They even went so far as to have former postseason hero Curt Schilling make an unannounced appearance to throw out the first pitch as a good luck charm - though it wasn't a good omen when he bounced it to the plate.

Upton got the Rays off to the good start they needed against Daisuke Matsuzaka, following Akinori Iwamura's leadoff single with a two-run homer, his sixth of the postseason.

The Rays went deep twice in the third inning to expand their lead to 5-0, Carlos Pena pulling a ball down the rightfield line and over the short wall, and Longoria following five pitches later, matching Upton with his sixth of the postseason. The Rays added two more in the seventh on an Upton double off closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Kazmir did his part, but the bullpen failed. The Sox rallied first off Balfour, as Jed Lowrie doubled, then with two outs they rapped three straight hits: singles by Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia, then a long-awaited three-run homer by David Ortiz.

The Sox struck again in the eighth off Wheeler, when Bay drew a four-pitch leadoff walk and Drew homered. Mark Kotsay hit a two-out double to deep center off Upton's glove and Coco Crisp, the antagonist in the June 5 brawl, delivered a more painful blow, fouling off four straight pitches to cap a 10-pitch at-bat with a single that scored the tying run.

"Nobody feels worse than the guys out of our bullpen right now,'' Maddon said. "Nobody feels worse.''

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

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