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FRANCONA: RAYS' RISE NOT TEMPORARY

The Rays' emergence this year as American League East champion made a difficult division exponentially more so, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. Where once there was free-spending Boston and New York and a few other clubs with potential, there is now a logjam.

"We all know what the Yankees can do and are capable of doing," he said. "The Blue Jays have an unbelievable pitching staff and some injuries that maybe kept their winning total down this year. And then all of a sudden you've got another team that comes out and wins 97 games. We beat up on each other, and it's hard.

"It makes life very difficult, and it's not going to get easier because (the Rays are) not going to go away."

YOUK CAN DO IT: 3B Kevin Youkilis' second-inning homer Saturday gave him hits in 12 of his 13 career ALCS games.

GIVE IT TO ME: LHP Jon Lester knows there would be no Game 7 and a chance for him to pitch the Sox into the World Series if his team didn't win Game 6. But he said his preparation for a start that might not have happened was the same as any other.

"I've done the same workouts, prepared the same, done everything that I normally do in between starts," he said. "And it's just a matter of mentally staying focused enough (Saturday) and (Sunday) to come out ... and pitch a good game."

He had not allowed an earned run in 16 consecutive postseason innings before allowing five (four earned) on eight hits in 52/3 innings in Game 3.

OTHER SIDE: P Paul Byrd saw the Red Sox's never-say-die attitude from the wrong end last season as a pitcher for the Indians, who blew a 3-1 lead to Boston in the ALCS. The series are starting to look a lot alike, apparently.

"The mood over (in the Rays' clubhouse) doesn't have to be bad because they're one game away from a World Series," said Byrd, "just like we are. It just depends on how you look at it. I felt like last year the pressure was on (Boston). We had the lead, but they came out and hit the heck out of the ball and pitched great."

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