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Night's biggest controversy was never aired

No "Friends." No Texas A&M vs. Virginia Tech on ESPN. No updates on Isabel from The Weather Channel. No "Not Your Typical Fan" on NESN. No TV, in other words, in the Red Sox bullpen last night, where Sox relievers had to watch last night's 4-3 Sox win without benefit of any camera close-ups.

"The TV," Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said yesterday afternoon, "will be padlocked."

Piniella had just gotten off the phone with Bob Watson, baseball's vice president of field operations, who assured the D-Rays' skipper that the Sox would not enjoy any privileges that were not available in the visitors' pen, too.

That was the issue, Sox manager Grady Little said yesterday. "It's just a matter of being fair to both teams," he said. "There was no accusation of cheating."

There were none, certainly, from Piniella, who did not raise the possibility that the Sox were somehow using the TV to steal signs, though he noted that Sox relievers could benefit from watching hitters' swing patterns.

But there also was no letter from Major League Baseball granting the Sox permission to have an extra set in the pen, which Little had insisted the team had the night before.

What they had, general manager Theo Epstein said, was verbal permission from Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations, to install a set in the pen. But yesterday, Epstein said, he spoke with Alderson, who ordered him to pull the plug until the Sox put a TV in both pens.

Umpiring crew chief Steve Rippley had said Wednesday night that no electronic devices were allowed in bullpens or dugouts. If so, that doesn't explain the TVs in the bullpens in Yankee Stadium. No one to date, at least, has made a stink about those, maybe because the Bombers provided equal opportunity viewing.

By game time, however, the TV tempest had been trumped as the day's biggest controversy. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was apoplectic that with Hurricane Isabel bearing down on Maryland, the Yankees and Orioles were forced by Major League Baseball to start their game yesterday afternoon, with rain washing out play with the teams tied at 1 after five innings. The commissioner's office showed "terrible judgment and overall stupidity," Steinbrenner charged, in mandating that the game be played.

"It couldn't come out with a worse outcome than this," said Mike Mussina, the Yankees' starting pitcher yesterday. "They moved the game up, we played five innings, and it ends in a tie. And now we might have to play two anyway."

Steinbrenner was not mollified by the decision to start the game in the afternoon instead of at night, as scheduled. The Yanks had asked the game be canceled and replayed as part of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium next weekend. The players' union had raised the possibility of a day-night doubleheader Wednesday in Baltimore, but the Yankee players, as was their prerogative under union rules, refused.

"Schools, businesses, athletic events -- virtually everything -- was called off," Steinbrenner said. "And for them to proceed was stupidity at its worst."

The Yanks tried to take buses after the game to Philadelphia, but apparently couldn't get a bus company to take them. They eventually flew out of Baltimore, and arrived in St. Petersburg, Fla., with no problems.

But even though ultimately the Yankees will get what they wanted -- the game will be made up in New York next weekend, giving them an extra home game that could help determine whether they finish with the league's best record and home-field advantage in the playoffs -- they still weren't happy. And while the Sox were nowhere near the scene, the Sox were getting word that the Yanks thought Boston played a part in MLB's decision to have the game go off as planned.

"I didn't call," Epstein said. "I got enough to be worried about here without getting involved with the Yankees."

But it turns out that Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, the man who made "Evil Empire" part of the Steinbrenner portfolio, did have phone conversations with Alderson about Isabel-related scenarios. That in itself will be enough to fuel the conspiracy theories.

"I talked with Sandy Alderson about the possible impact the weather would have on us," Lucchino said.

The Sox had contemplated moving up yesterday's game to an afternoon start, Lucchino said, when there was a possibility that Isabel's impact might be felt here earlier. Discussions were held with Devil Rays officials. "But once the weather changed," he said, "we didn't want to inconvenience our fans with a last-minute change."

At the same time, Lucchino said, the Sox were going to make every effort to play yesterday, because the last thing they wanted to do was make up a postponement next weekend in Tampa. And that's where the Yankee-Orioles game came into play.

"During that conversation," Lucchino said, "Sandy raised the issue of similar circumstances even more pressing for people in Baltimore and Philadelphia [where the Phillies and Marlins played]. I allowed there was certainly a competitive issue involved. My concern was about our game. I didn't want to play one of our games in Tampa on the last weekend of the season. He may have raised the concern about other teams.

"But you can't tie the Yankees and Phillies issue to us. They're in a different part of the country, with different conditions."

The Sox won under clear skies last night. And even if Lucchino had nothing to do with the Yanks getting a soaking, entire precincts of the Nation delight in the thought that he did.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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