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Red Sox force seventh game of AL championship series

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | One more game like this and order is restored in the American League. One more Red Sox win and the defending champions go for their third title in five years.

One more Rays loss and the neophyte baseball fans here can go back to either ignoring their team or appreciating what would still be one of the most remarkable one-season turnarounds in baseball history.

Boston 4, Tampa 2, and now this ALCS turns into the two best words in sports tonight: game seven.

Doesn’t seem too long ago that the Rays were proving themselves the better team, that this ALCS felt like the coronation of the league’s next great team. Now it’s a game away from being the latest notch on the bedpost for the reigning champs.

The Red Sox have their mojo back, swaggering back from down three games to one, seven outs away from what would’ve been an anemic playoff defeat. Now they’re nine innings from erasing that deficit for the second year in a row, from making the amazing look something closer to mundane.

Most of the glaring weaknesses Boston showed — and Tampa exploited — early in this series have disappeared. That starts with the return of Big Papi, who ignited that impossible game five comeback with a three-run homer and added a double and RBI single on Saturday.

Jason Varitek is out of his 0-for-15 slump — though it seemed worse than that — with a home run into the right field bleachers. Jacoby Ellsbury’s inability to get on base doesn’t matter because his replacement, Coco Crisp, has been on nine times in three games.

And most notably, Josh Beckett is no longer Albie Lopez. But he was definitely good enough, allowing just two runs (both homers).

Oh, he only made it five innings, and the fact that Boston manager Terry Francona pulled him after just 78 pitches is the only proof you need that Beckett is still not the playoff Superman of his past.

That Beckett threw his fastball in the very low 90s, with a curveball that spun more than it curved.

This Beckett touched 94 with his fastball, with a curveball that bit enough to freeze Cliff Floyd and Gabe Gross for strikeouts.

That Beckett got just four misses on the 40 swings taken by Tampa. /{This/} Beckett got five misses on 34 swings.

The Beckett chapter of this series is now over, giving way to the part where you either believe in momentum or resilience, in a champion’s resolve or the challenger’s energy.

As dead as the Red Sox looked just three days ago, they look that formidable now. As powerful as the Rays looked through four games, they look that shaken now.

Their bullpen was among the best in baseball in the regular season. It gave up seven runs in less than three innings on Thursday, and Grant Balfour continues to cause concern.

His 1.54 ERA in the regular season has turned into 19.29 in the postseason, with four runs and two walks given up in two innings over the last two games.

Their defense was the best in the regular season. Then Boston’s eventual winning run on Thursday reached on an error, and the Sox scored another unearned run on Saturday.

The last unearned run came from the most unlikely of places, with shortstop Jason Bartlett’s throw to first way wide in the sixth inning. Bartlett hit one homer and drove in 37 during the regular season, but was named team MVP because of his defense.

The Rays’ offense also failed them. These guys banged out 38 runs and 13 homers in the last four games, but managed just two runs and four hits in game six. Solo home runs by B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett accounted for Tampa’s only scoring, and the Sox made sure to take the shine off those, too.

Kevin Youkilis answered Upton’s to tie the score, and Varitek answered Bartlett’s to take the lead.

Tampa slapped, Boston slugged. This is how it went. This is how it’s going. This is so much different than how it had been going.

The Rays are now down to their final chance to make it stop.

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