BoSox limping to playoffs

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Red Sox Nation is breathing as normal as can be expected in September.

That 141/2 game lead the Boston Red Sox had over the New York Yankees on May 29 will stand.

The Red Sox became the first team to clinch a post-season berth thanks to a ninth-inning rally against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Saturday night.

Boston is in, either first-place finishers in the American League East -- ending the run of the New York Yankees which goes back to 1997 -- or as the wild-card winner.

Just because the Red Sox are printing post-season tickets at Fenway, it does not mean that there isn't anything to worry about.

Like left fielder Manny Ramirez, who has not played since Aug. 28 because of a strained left oblique.

Like setup man Eric Gagne, acquired from the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline. Gagne has given up 14 runs in his first 16 innings for a 7.88 earned run average. He has a win, two losses and three blown saves. Gagne walked three Blue Jays in relief on Tuesday. He had walked three once in 289 appearances dating back to opening day 2002.

Like lefty reliever Hideki Okajima, so dominant for so long, but since Aug. 1, he owns a 7.04 ERA in 17 appearances, allowing 17 hits, including four home runs and five walks in 151/3 innings.

Like Clay Buchholz, who pitched a no-hitter in his debut but was roughed up at the at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday. He got the hook after 68 pitches.

He's good enough to be on the post-season roster as a setup man. Boston has decided it doesn't want him to pitch more than 155 innings this season. He has 11 innings remaining on his odometer.

And there always are the New York Yankees to worry about down the road.

The final week still will determine first and who -- the Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland Indians or the AL East -- winds up with the most wins and home-field advantage.

If the season had ended last night the Angels would have opened the AL division series in Boston, while the Yankees would have began post-season in Cleveland.

And in the NL, the Chicago Cubs would have played the Arizona Diamondbacks, while the wild-card winning San Diego Padres would visit the New York Mets. The Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies still are trying to alter the post-season landscape.

How big a deal is home-field advantage? Well the visitors won six of seven series in 2006. In 2005-06 the home team won 10 of 14 series.

Opening on the road is no problem for the wild-card winner as evidenced by the Florida Marlins winning it all in 1997. The Angels in 2002, the Marlins in 2003 and the Red Sox in 2004 also won the World Series as the wild card.

The wild card in part, plus baseball's competitive balance has led to seven different World Series champs the previous seven seasons.

In the previous seven Super Bowls, the New England Patriots have won three times.

In the past seven NBA Final, four different teams have won, with the San Antonio Spurs winning three times and the Los Angeles Lakers twice.

In the NHL, there have been six different champions in the past seven years. The New Jersey Devils winning it twice.

Since Joe Carter homered off Philadelphia Phillies' Mitch Williams to win the 1993 World Series, only eight of 30 teams have failed to make post-season play.

They are the Baltimore Orioles, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Kansas City Royals, the Phillies, the Washington Nationals (nee Montreal Expos), the Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Blue Jays.


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