BOSTON, AUG. 22 -- Fenway Park, a monument to baseball and broken dreams, seems the perfect venue for the broken pennant race that is the American League East. Each expectation here is accompanied by a foreboding sense that another disappointment is in the works, much like the division's proclivity for attaching a negative to every positive.

Yet the faithful who fill these cozy confines to near capacity day after day retain hope, perhaps believing their Boston Red Sox are long overdue to benefit from someone else's misfortune. The Red Sox have a surging Roger Clemens and a steady Wade Boggs and a rejuvenated Mike Greenwell and a surprisingly proficient supporting cast; but most important to the Fenway denizens, they have the law of averages on their side.

Red Sox Manager Joe Morgan knows the mindset of those who alternately cherish and despise him from the stands. Morgan was born 12 years after the Red Sox' last World Series championship, in 1918, and the lifelong New Englander understands the suffering of Boston backers.

"The people here have kind of grown reluctant to embrace the Red Sox in August," he said today before his first-place club took the field against the Baltimore Orioles. "They've been let down too many times, suffered too many heartbreaks. Now they hold the team at arm's length.

"These people live and die for the Red Sox, but they've died more often than lived. They see us in first place in August and they say, 'Well, here we go again.' . . . I don't think it effects the players though. They're out here to do a job. If anything, it motivates them. It motivates me, for sure. I want to give the people a championship. We think we can win it. If you can get to the playoffs, anything can happen."

No one knows that better than Red Sox fans -- from tantalizing World Series losses in 1975 and 1986 (the most recent two of four Series appearances they've lost in seven games) to a massive divisional collapse in 1978 and smaller ones every few seasons. This is a veteran-laden team, and the scars run deep in what long has carried the reputation as one of the league's coldest and most fragmented clubhouses.

"We've been through a lot," said outfielder Dwight Evans, 38 and in his 19th season here. "There has been finger pointing and internal turmoil in the past. Maybe it's just me mellowing as I reach my old age, but I think that kind of thing is behind us. We've been renowned as having bad chemistry for all these years, but I think we have a nice blend on this team that's helping us. We're sure not in first place by talent alone."

Indeed, if the Red Sox are to outlast the Toronto Blue Jays and Orioles, they will have to cover for some significant deficiencies. They are 39-21 at home, but 27-35 away from Fenway. Entering today, they were leading the major leagues in hitting at .272 -- including a remarkable .294 here -- and in on-base percentage at .344. But they were 12th in the AL in runs scored and have been shut out 14 times, tied with Seattle for the most in the league and their worst number since 1974.

They went more than eight games and 283 at-bats without a home run before newcomer Mike Marshall's blast off Baltimore's Joe Price in the eighth inning Tuesday. Boston has played sub-.500 baseball this year aside from a pair of seven-game winning streaks. The Red Sox are 20-20 since the all-star break and have retained their grip on first place only because no AL East club except Baltimore and New York has a winning record in the second half.

"No one in this division seems capable of taking off and taking command," Orioles Manager Frank Robinson said. "Toronto is capable and Boston is capable, but something has held each of them back."

For the Red Sox, the plagues have been unsteady run production and their bullpen. Tom Brunansky, Evans and Greenwell largely have been the culprits for Boston's lack of scoring punch. None has floundered completely, but none has sizzled, either, when a banner season by any of them probably would have the Red Sox comfortably ahead.

Greenwell's season has been particularly up and down. The left fielder was in the low .200s for much of the first half, drawing boos and prompting Boston's management to include his name in trade talks. (The Orioles were keenly interested and likely willing to part with one of their young pitchers and one of their young outfielders, but the Red Sox apparently backed off).

Greenwell has rebounded, hitting .355 over his past 33 games to raise his average to .283. But he still had just eight homers and 45 RBI, and his double to left here Monday night was his first hit to strike the Green Monster on the fly this season.

"I'm hitting the ball solidly now," Greenwell said. "That's the first step. The next is to start to drive it a little bit more."

If their run production solidifies, the Red Sox will have only one worry -- and the bullpen quandary may have been solved. Rob Murphy was given the first chance to succeed Jeff Reardon, who's out for the season after having back surgery three weeks ago. He failed badly, so Morgan has turned to Jeff Gray, a 27-year-old journeyman who was released by the Philadelphia Phillies this year.

Gray suffered back problems of his own and blew three of his first four save opportunities this season but entered today unscored upon in his last 12 1/3 innings and bearing the look of a savior. "He can do the job," Boston catcher John Marzano said. "I used to play in the minor leagues against him, and all the {Class AA} New Britain {Conn.} guys used to hate to hit against him more than anyone."

Boston seems solid otherwise. There's a potentially explosive situation brought on by the acquisition of Marshall from the Mets: It leaves two spots for Marshall, Brunansky and Evans. Since Brunansky is due to be a free agent at the end of the season and Boston would like to keep him, the likely loser will be Evans, now exclusively a designated hitter who hasn't started in four games. But both he and Morgan insist Evans is mature enough to handle the reduction in playing time.

No matter what else happens, Boston's starting pitching may carry it. Red Sox starters have a 3.23 ERA entering today, and Boston pitching had surrendered just 69 homers, 44 of them solo.

Clemens is 18-5 with a league-leading 2.04 ERA and seemingly on his way to his third Cy Young award in five years. He's 11-2 this season after a Red Sox loss, 67-17 following a Boston defeat during his career. He has become a 28-year-old icon here, the subject of a stir because the Red Sox haven't moved much toward renegotiating his contract -- which runs through the 1991 season.

He has won his last six starts, working to a 0.73 ERA in the process. He hasn't allowed a home run in 63 1/3 innings, and he has surrendered three or fewer earned runs in 21 consecutive starts. He struggled Sunday but still subdued California by 4-1. Said Marzano: "He's Roger Clemens, superstar. He doesn't need his best stuff."

And the hope here is that he can carry the Red Sox on his wide-as-Texas shoulders though another crisp New England fall.

Said Morgan: "This certainly isn't the best team we've had in recent memory. Maybe it isn't even a very good one. But relative to our situation, this is a good ballclub. We're in a position to do something the great Red Sox teams of the last two decades -- and they were great teams -- didn't do. . . . There's no jinx here. Just a trend we can reverse."