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Monster-sized must-win

BOSTON -- Written on the board near the door to the Red Sox clubhouse at Fenway Park on Thursday was an exhortation of sorts: "We can change history. Believe it!"

Lofty goal, that. For now, the Red Sox would settle for a victory or two.

Through the first two games of their American League Championship Series, it's all gone very wrong for the Red Sox, who trail the Yankees two games to none.

In no particular order, the Red Sox have ...

  • Hit a lowly .224 as a team.

  • Collected a measly one hit in 37 at-bats (.027) in the first six innings of the two games.

  • Seen their No. 1 starter, Curt Schilling, forced from the mound after three innings, perhaps unable to return until spring training.

  • Been held scoreless in 15 of 18 innings.

    A better bit of wisdom for the board might have been: "Cheer up! It can't get any worse."

    Hopeful of wrestling the pennant from the arch-rival Yankees and boasting of a 1-2 starting pitcher combination unmatched in recent Boston history, the Sox have stumbled badly.

    After turning an 8-0 laugher in Game 1 into a 10-7 nailbiter -- the Red Sox had the tying run at third in the eighth and the potential tying run at the plate in the ninth -- they were silenced by Jon Lieber in Game 2. Mike Mussina retired the first 19 men he faced in Game 1, while Lieber limited them to one hit over the first six innings in Wednesday's Game 2.

    Leadoff man Johnny Damon, second in the American League in runs scored during the season with 90 RBI from the top spot has been a non-factor in the series, hitless in eight at-bats with five strikeouts.

    Damon heaped blame on himself after Game 2, taking the fall for the offense's ineffectiveness.

    "It definitely starts with me," said Damon. "When I go, it seems (No. 2 hitter Mark) Bellhorn goes. And when we go, the whole team goes."

    So far, the top tandem has yet to provide run-producing opportunities for Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, who combined for nearly 280 RBI during the season.

    The Sox will need to take a more typically patient approach at the plate in Game 3 against Kevin Brown. Minus Damon's 16-pitch at-bat in the sixth inning of Game 2, Lieber needed just 66 pitches to record his other 20 outs, a remarkably stress-free ratio.

    "We didn't let the game come to us the way we usually do," acknowledged hitting coach Ron Jackson.

    That should change at Fenway, where the league-leading Red Sox offense was more fearsome. Boston hitters average 44 points higher in batting average at Fenway (.304 vs. .260 on the road) and scored just over a run per game more at home than away from Fenway: 6.4 runs per game compared to 5.3.

    "Home's been nice to us," Damon said. "We're back home to sort of recapture what we had right before this series."

    What the Red Sox had was a stretch in which they compiled the best record in baseball after Aug. 1, topped by a three-game sweep of the Angels, making them the only playoff team to cut through its Division Series in the minimum number of games.

    In that series, the Red Sox never scored fewer than seven runs in any one game; in the LCS, they've been punchless, save for a pride-salvaging, late-inning rally in Game 1.

    Even with the few scoring chances they got in Game 2, the Red Sox didn't capitalize, failing to collect so much as a hit in seven opportunities with a man in scoring position.

    Of course, hitting hasn't been the only problem; just the most glaring. It's feared that Schilling won't pitch again in the series -- or as long as the Red Sox keep playing -- thanks to a dislocated tendon in his right ankle. Schilling was scratched from a bullpen session Thursday and was officially ruled out as a Game 5 option.

    Derek Lowe, who pitched himself out of the original postseason rotation with a poor September, is the replacement choice for Game 5 unless weather intercedes -- heavy rain is forecast for Friday night in Boston, putting Game 3 in jeopardy. It's conceivable the Sox could come back with Pedro Martinez on normal rest to pitch a rain-shifted Game 5.

    First, they'll need a solid start from Game 3 starter Bronson Arroyo, who limited the Angels to a lone run over his first six innings before tiring some in the seventh.

    That was Arroyo's first career playoff start, but he hardly seems the type to be rattled by the challenge.

    "I don't feel the weight of the entire season," Arroyo said Thursday.

    Nor is anyone getting caught up in the team's poor track record against the Yankees in the postseason or the championship drought that seems to taunt them in enemy ballparks.

    If the Red Sox need a precedent to serve as inspiration, they needn't look very far. Twice in the last six years, they've rebounded from 0-2 deficits in postseason series: in the 1999 ALDS against Cleveland and just last October, also in the ALDS, against Oakland.

    And those were five-game series, not seven, as this one offers.

    Then again, the Indians and A's weren't the Yankees.

    But mostly, the problem this time has been the Red Sox, who haven't been themselves.

    Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.