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MARKETPLACE:  Auto | Jobs | Personals | Yellow Pages  November 29, 2003
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No Fretting Allowed: Red Sox back in playoffs
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BOSTON (AP) -- John Henry has owned the Boston Red Sox for less than two years, and already he knows what to expect when the franchise teases its fans with the first taste of success.

�We�re declaring a no-fret zone,� he said after the Red Sox clinched a playoff berth�a first, hopeful step towards the team�s first World Series victory in 85 years. �Let�s enjoy these playoffs.�

If only it were that simple.

The Red Sox are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 1999, having clinched the AL�s wild-card spot by beating the Baltimore Orioles 14-3 on Thursday night. Ten times since 1918 the team has made it to the postseason, taking part in some of the most thrilling games in the sport�s history but always, in the end, coming up empty.

Henry asked�no, begged�the Boston fans to enjoy themselves, and from the looks of things on Thursday night they didn�t need to be told twice. The celebration spilled out of Fenway Park onto Yawkey Way, where commemorative wild-card T-shirts and hats were selling at a breakneck pace.

But the party will have long quieted by the time the Red Sox open their playoff series next Wednesday against the Athletics in Oakland.

And already, the fretting of the long-suffering fans has begun:

ďż˝        Should the Red Sox plan to hold No. 2 starter Derek Lowe back for Game 3, in Fenway, where his ERA is almost twice as good? (And should they abandon the plan if Pedro Martinez canďż˝t deliver Game 1?)

ďż˝        Should the team go with 11 pitchers instead of 10, to give them a better chance that someone will get hot? (Or, would more arms in a shaky bullpen be too much of a bad thing?)

ďż˝        Has closer Byung-Hyun Kim put his problems behind him with three solid outings in a row? (Or is he headed for a Yankee Stadium meltdown in the AL championship series like the one he had in Games 4 and 5 of the 2001 World Series?)

ďż˝        Will Nomar Garciaparra snap out of whatever has dropped his batting average from among the league leadersďż˝along with teammates Bill Mueller (.327) and Manny Ramirez (.324) -- to a mere .302? Will the extra rest Martinez got from his August throat infection help him or hurt him? Will Trot Nixonďż˝s strained calf heal?

ďż˝        Should the Red Sox act now and pick up the 2004 option on manager Grady Littleďż˝s contract, which expires at the end of the season? Should they give him an extension beyond next season? (Orďż˝Hey! Do you think George Steinbrenner might fire Joe Torre if the Yankees donďż˝t win it all?)

ďż˝        And the biggest worry of all: What will the team do in the winter, with Martinez and Garciaparra both heading for free agency at the end of the ďż˝04 season? (Fans were already asking last year if one or both should be traded so the team wouldnďż˝t lose them to free agency for nothing).

Even before the streets had cleared Thursday night, some were already fretting that the team�s party was overdone. Since the extra round was added to the playoffs in 1995, few teams have celebrated a wild-card berth so vigorously.

But even as they drenched themselves in champagne in a plastic covered clubhouse, the Red Sox players maintained that they hadn�t lost sight of their actual goal.

�I liked our celebration tonight. We had a lot of fun,� said pitcher John Burkett, a 38-year-old veteran who�s been on five playoff teams. �But I sense our team knows we have a lot of work to do.�



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