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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Win dialed up by hitting pound key

The Yankees still lead the Red Sox by 3 1/2 games, but Boston has cut four games off that lead in 10 days, and when the Red Sox mash the baseball and embarrass the Yanks the way they did last night, it feels like the Yankees are the ones doing the chasing. Pedro Martinez gets the ball for the Sox today. Suddenly, it feels like 1978 in reverse.

Papa Jack's Band did it again last night, bashing 14 hits and routing the overrated Jose Contreras and Jeff Weaver en route to a 10-5 victory over the reeling New Yorkers. The Red Sox are only 7-7 against the Yanks this year, but last night marked the fourth time in 2003 that the Sox have scored 10 runs against the Steinbrenner AC. In those four wins, the Red Sox have pounded New York pitching for 50 hits. Just dig in, grip, and rip.

There's every possibility that crafty Andy Pettitte or avengin' Roger Clemens could slam the door today or tomorrow, but until the Empire strikes back, it looks like the Red Sox have got the Yanks on the run. Boston's maulers have pounded 10 or more hits in nine consecutive games.

"When we get in the playoffs, we'll talk about those kinds of numbers," said proud hitting coach, Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson. "We take the right approach to hitting and we've been doing it all year."

Last night they did it without Manny Ramirez, who's afflicted with something akin to the bug that shelved Pedro. Doesn't matter. The hits just keep on coming.

It's been said before and we'll say it again: The Yankees look vulnerable. Starting pitching has been the Yankee anchor, but the fab five are faltering. Since mid-June the Yankees have won only one series against a team with a record over .500.

Veteran Derek Jeter knows enough not to panic.

"They're good," he said, acknowledging the Sox. "They can swing the bats, especially here. But we have to be able to bounce back. Pitching has been our strong point, but they've struggled a little lately . . . But we're in first place. A lot of people would like to be in first place. I'm sure Boston would."

No doubt. The Sox have finished second to the Yankees in each of the last five seasons, a major league record. But Boston fans today have new confidence. Buoyed by the 10-day surge, last night's rout, and the prospect of Pedro on the hill today, the Nation is positively giddy. Wild-card talk has been put on the shelf. The Sox could cut the margin to 2 1/2 today with 27 left to play. And yes, the Yankees look like they're cracking around the edges.

"We certainly know coming in what they're capable of doing," said Yankee manager Joe Torre. "We need to start hitting a little more consistently and our pitching can't give up 10 runs. [Today] we've got our work cut out. We have to go out and ask Andy Pettitte to match him [Martinez]. This is a good team. I don't care where they play. They beat our brains out in Yankee Stadium, too."

There was a playoff atmosphere at the ancient yard for this series opener. The pregame buzz was everything you would expect. A who's who of baseball literati and an inordinate number of veterans from 1975 littered the area in front of both dugouts and behind the batting cage. We speak of David Halberstam, Peter Gammons, Dick Stockton, Don Zimmer, Bill Lee (who was in the stands behind the backstop), Dwight Evans, and a cast of dozens.

There were mini-controversies in both clubhouses. The Sox welcomed favorite son Lou Merloni (Bob Lobel called it the California Recall) and worried about Manny. Happily, there was no talk-radio suspicion that Manny was faking it. Meanwhile, Merloni did more interviews than Schwarzenegger, prompting Damian Jackson to quip, "Did we get Rocket back?"

Over on the other side, there was fallout from the David Wells brou-ha-ha. Wells went on the radio in New York and said his manager and pitching coach don't like him and that the Yanks might pull him from the rotation to save money. Not wanting to dignify the ridiculous tirade, Yankee general manager Brian Cashman said, "He's wrong, obviously, when he says we don't want to pitch him to save money. There won't be any discipline." When asked if he would talk to Wells about it, the GM said, "I don't think it's worth my time . . . He can say what he wants. Joe will make the decision."

Wells has been struggling with a bad back. Clemens has been looking all of 41. We saw last night that Contreras and Weaver might be frauds. Meanwhile, the Yankee staff continues to let the Sox swing from the heels. Lucky for all of them that Boss Steinbrenner is in Columbus, Ohio, for tonight's Ohio State football game.

In the past, Red Sox fans sounded a little pathetic with their "Yankees [expletive] chants." Not last night. This time it's the Yankees hearing footsteps. The Sox and their fans can smell Yankee blood. And Pedro Martinez gets the ball today.

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

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