BOSTON -- Mike Boddicker figures to have that funny, unexplainable feeling when he takes the mound at the Oakland Coliseum today.
It's that feeling you get when you're sure you've been somewhere before, when the memory is so vivid it's almost real, when the circumstances are so similar it's almost eerie.
Deja vu? No, nausea.
Boddicker really has been there before. He's gone to that same mound with the Boston Red Sox down, 2-0, in a playoff series against the Oakland Athletics. It is not exactly a fond memory.
The Red Sox staked him to a five-run lead in Game 3 of the 1988 playoffs, but Boddicker could not even stick out the third inning. He gave up six runs on eight hits over 2 2/3 innings, and Boston would not be heard from again in the series.
"That's something I've thought about recently," Boddicker said, "especially when writers bring it up. I didn't have it that day. I had nightmares that winter thinking about it. But, yes, I'd like to make up for that. I want to go out there like I normally do and give us a chance to stay in the game."
That hasn't been a problem during the regular season, a year in which he reeled off 10 straight victories at one stretch and finished with a 17-8 record and a 3.36 ERA -- his best numbers since his 20-11 season for the Baltimore Orioles in 1984.
Boddicker averaged nearly seven innings a start, finessing opponents to the point of frustration and providing the perfect complement to hard-throwing Roger Clemens. He closed out the season with a strong performance against the Chicago White Sox in the division-clinching, final regular-season game of 1990.
Now, the Red Sox need him to do it at least one more time. He is not their last hope, but he is their best hope of making a respectable showing this week in Oakland.
The A's were a prohibitive favorite to win the series at the outset. Two victories at Fenway Park have put the Red Sox on sweep alert. Boston manager Joe Morgan is leaning against starting Clemens in Game 4, so Boddicker might represent the club's only decent chance of getting out of the Bay area with a victory.
The Red Sox have wasted two solid performances from their starting rotation. Clemens pitched six shutout innings in Game 1, but was too fatigued to go any further. Rookie Dana Kiecker gave up a run on six hits over 5 2/3 innings in Game 2, but the bullpen could not do the rest.
Boddicker will be working in a more spacious ballpark than his predecessors, which might give him a little more room to work, but his team has been backed into a tight corner. The Red Sox need to win two of three just to force the series back to Fenway. There are some who think they already have reached the point of no return.
Game 3 is virtually a must-win situation for the Red Sox, but what else is new? They felt they had to win with Clemens in the opener, and didn't. They couldn't afford to lose both games at Fenway, and did.
Boddicker apparently can handle the pressure, even if he did let that big lead get away in 1988. His postseason track record dates back a little further than that. In 1983, he started two games for the world champion Orioles in the postseason and did not give up an earned run in 18 innings.
"I like pitching in big games," Boddicker said. "I like pitching because, when I'm on the mound, I'm relaxed. I would be more nervous in a big game if I was sitting in the dugout watching someone else."
Game 3 provides the first pitching matchup that appears to favor the Red Sox. Right-hander Mike Moore will take the mound for the A's after a difficult season in which he ended up with a 13-15 record and a 4.65 ERA.
Oakland pitching coach Dave Duncan has said that he plans to make Moore his next big reclamation project, but that won't happen until next spring. In the meantime, Moore is getting a chance to bring a frustrating season to a positive conclusion.
"I think definitely that the ability is there," Moore said. "This year is hard to explain. I can just summarize it by saying I had a bad year. Things fell into place last year. I'll do some things differently next year. What exactly those things are remain to be seen."
Moore was not manager Tony La Russa's only option for Game 3. Right-hander Scott Sanderson also was available for the start and had better regular-season numbers.
"That decision is not up to me," Moore said. "I know that Scott has had a better year than I have. But my job is to go out, take the ball and help the team win."
That might take some doing against Boddicker, who closed out the regular season with six consecutive victories. He'll either extend that string tonight, or the Red Sox will have dug themselves a three-game hole that no team has ever escaped.
This could be his last start as a member of the Red Sox. Boddicker will be eligible for free agency soon and is expected to draw offers from a number of teams -- perhaps even the Orioles.
But first things first.