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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Reverse rout in Bronx makes us wonder

As opening statements go, this was something along the lines of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and JFK's inaugural address. In the first true "big" game of the season -- the series opener against the potential playoff foes from Anaheim on the very eve of September -- the Red Sox batted around and put a 4-0 lead on the board before you could say, "Still, We Believe in The Impossible Dream."

Before the second inning was over, Manny Ramirez had two homers, four RBIs, two standing ovations, and several new celebration routines.

Meanwhile, the big board in left field was showing Cleveland leading the Yankees, 6-0, in the Bronx. The Indians led, 9-0, in the third. It was 16-0 in the sixth. The final was 22-0.

Forget about Reverse the Curse. Could this be Mike Torrez's Revenge? Could the hardball gods be shaking down the thunder on 161st Street -- setting the stage for a Red Sox comeback that would avenge the collapse of 1978? Might Orlando Cabrera be the Bizarro Bucky Dent?

Last night, the white-hot Red Sox beat the Angels, 10-7, (it was 10-1 in the eighth) to pull within 3 1/2 games of the Yankees in the American League East.

What a night. Those kids and their parents unloading U-Hauls throughout the Fens must have wondered what all the noise was about under the lights on Yawkey Way.

Easy answer. This was about the Red Sox playing championship-caliber baseball when it matters most. It was about a town still smarting from the departure of a beloved superstar, yet coming to the grips with the fact that the deal had to be made and the team is vastly improved. It was about the giddy realization that the Red Sox finally have better, deeper pitching than the hated Yankees. It was about August yielding to September and the Red Sox seemingly surging toward the playoffs. It was about the heretofore unthinkable prospect of the Yanks choking while the Sox soar. It was about the prospect of Trading Places.

Homer hero Manny wasn't having any part of the Yankee chase.

"We've got to think about these guys," he said, motioning toward the visitors' clubhouse.

Those weren't the Tigers or Blue Jays in the third base dugout last night. Folks in Boston have been lauding the Angels all season, particularly since the Sox were swept in California in June, giving up 17 runs in two games. We all know the book on Mike Scioscia's players. They run the bases aggressively. They do the little things. They put pressure on your defense. Oh, and they are loaded with talent, much of which was on the shelf earlier this year. They won the World Series two years ago and they came to the Hub winners of 12 of 14 and 18 of 23.

But Manny vaporized the Halos before Boston made an out. He hit a 3-and-1 pitch into the bullpen to put the game away for Curt Schilling. On the first anniversary of Puttin' on the Ritz with Enrique Wilson, Ramirez showed what a difference a year can make by hitting two homers in the first two innings, inflating his popularity to a level perhaps exceeded only by the RemDawg himself. (And wouldn't the R-Dawg like to see that '78 thing made right once and for all -- perhaps more than anyone else currently working at Fenway Park?) Remy is old enough to remember when a New York loss to Cleveland in the Bronx forced a one-game playoff. The numbers from New York on the big board were equally kind last night.

The Yankees led the Red Sox by 10 1/2 games just a few short weeks ago. The Pinstripes never have lost such a large lead. Not even close. But these are strange days in the strangest of seasons. Maybe it's the Grady bobbleheads working their magic.

"It's getting fun, isn't it?" asked Kevin Millar, as he played catch with Dave Roberts's young son in the clubhouse after the game. "We've been just focused on winning games. Now we look up, and we're three back in the loss column."

General manager Theo Epstein was reluctant to get drawn into much discussion about the Yankees. He was, however, happy with the win over a wild-card contender.

"It kind of does count twice," said Young Theo. "We haven't been able to get any help, so this is a good win."

Nationally, there's new rumbling about Red Sox and Cubs. The Nomar Garciaparra trade emboldened those who believe there is a cosmic connection twinning the star-crossed franchises. By any measure the Nomar trade is the biggest deal the Sox have made since You Know Who was sold to the Yankees, and the idea of Nomar playing for the Cubs inspires new October visions of an apocalyptic World Series.

Last night's statement certainly will fan the flames of frenzy in the Fenway. The Red Sox put it away early, then demonstrated their new defense that is all the rage. There was no doubt that Schilling (17-6) would make this lead hold up as the Sox finally found some wild-card cushion (2 1/2-game lead over Anaheim).

Meanwhile, it was hard not to notice the rout taking place in New York. A loss is just a loss, but it was 15-0 in the fifth. We could only wonder what the fat man was thinking. Wait until those Republican delegates feel the full fury of George. They'll hear words never seen in the Bible.

"It's nice to be gaining ground on them," conceded Theo at 10:24 p.m. "But Cash [Yankee GM Brian Cashman] still has 1:36 left to make a deal. We'll see what happens. They never cease to amaze with what they can do."

With the Red Sox, a measure of restraint is always in order. There's always the seed of doubt that the Sox are merely setting the region up for another mind-bending, soul-crushing disappointment. A Sox ticket to a September game should come stamped with a surgeon general's warning. Maybe flashing Cleveland's 16-0 lead over the Yankees on the center-field board in the Angel eighth was a little over the top.

That said, it certainly is fun at Fenway this week. Full moon Sunday. Nonstop howling Tuesday. Strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy @globe.com.

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