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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

In AL, balance of power shifts

Remember the Cold War? Remember the arms race between global superpowers the United States and Soviet Union? Remember the race to the moon?

This is what the American League feels like in the nuclear winter of 2003-04. The Red Sox and Yankees continue to eyeball one another from the too-close distance of 200 miles.

The Sox, led by young Kennedy-esque Theo Epstein, last night bagged righthanded stopper Curt Schilling, acquiring the former World Series co-MVP for four players who might not amount to a hill of rosin bags. The 9 p.m. (EST) announcement no doubt caused some tables to be overturned at Yankee headquarters in Tampa. We imagine George Steinbrenner slamming his shoebottom into a podium, Kruschev-style, when the Yankee brass next convenes at Malio's Steakhouse in Tampa.

By any measure, it's clear there's a "fire-all-your-guns-at-once" mind-set on Yawkey Way. After what happened Oct. 16, and given the number of key players going into the final year of their contracts, the Sox are going for broke in 2004. And we mean broke. John W. Henry, Tom Werner & Co. might even swallow some luxury tax dollars if they must.

It's the price of doing baseball business here in Boston. The urgency of winning a World Series becomes greater each year.

Like everything the Red Sox do, the Schilling deal must be viewed through the Pinstripe Prism. When the news first broke early this week, both New York City tabloids devoted their back cover to the story of the Yankees losing out on Schilling. Small wonder.

Truly there is something about this deal that does not make sense. In their talks with the Yankees, the Diamondbacks wanted Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson in exchange for the 37-year-old Schilling. Dealing with Boston, Arizona settled for Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Jorge de la Rosa, and a minor leaguer to be named, likely Michael Goss -- four players who do not equal one Nick Johnson.

Conspiracy theorists believe the Diamondbacks stuck it to the Yankees in retaliation for New York snatching David Wells last winter after Wells made a handshake agreement with Arizona. Look for the Yankees to go after Bartolo Colon now that the Red Sox have Schilling. And brace yourself for New York's eventual signing of Gary Sheffield.

"I guess I hate the Yankees now," said Schilling last night after the deal was announced.

The big righthander posted a message on the Sox website yesterday and late Thursday engaged in an online chat session with 24 Sox fans. "They all had their motives," recalled Schilling. "Most of them being screwing the Yankees."

Schilling will average a little over $12.5 million per year from the Red Sox over the next three seasons. He was gracious toward Pedro Martinez and was happy to accept the role as No. 2 starter.

One would hope that Martinez, making $17.5 million while complaining about lack of respect, will get the message as he heads into his contract year. Think Schilling would blow a 5-2 lead in the eighth against the Yankees, then throw his manager under the bus? Which guy do you want pitching Game 7?

The Sox news doesn't end with last night's announcement. Boston will introduce new manager Terry Francona Tuesday. Meanwhile, they are still wooing Oakland closer Keith Foulke and think they can eventually talk the Rangers into a Manny Ramirez-for-Alex Rodriguez deal.

Unfortunately, Francona is going to be strapped with the notion that he was hired to lure Schilling. That's not a good start for a guy who had the reputation as a players' manager in Philadelphia. Francona certainly seems like a nice fellow, but the next Sox manager needs to address the star system in the clubhouse. Still, we're all in favor of any guy who has a dad named Tito. It has a nice ring -- Son of Tito managing the BoSox. Sounds like some kind of monster movie -- Son of Tito Meets Godzilla.

Meanwhile, Foulke strikes me as a guy who might be overwhelmed here in the Hub. He's a changeup artist and might not react well if he gets ripped after one or two bad outings early in the year. That's the beauty of Schilling. He lives for the big games, has played in the big games, and won't take the apple if things get a little tight and testy in this town without pity.

As for A-Rod, it seems too good to be true which means it probably can't happen. In their dreams, the Sox think Texas general manager John Hart might do something stupid because he likes Manny from their good old days in Cleveland. There's also the hope that the Texas owner, Tom Hicks, will be seduced by the idea of saving $80 million and still getting Manny's bat along with a Scott Williamson or Scott Sauerbeck. Nice try, Sox fans, but don't wait underwater for this deal.

In any case, the Red Sox today are a lot better than they were yesterday. They have a starting rotation of Schilling, Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield. They have the team with the best slugging percentage in baseball history. And they're not done yet.

"Curt gives us a different look," said Epstein, enjoying the best day of his one-year term as Sox GM.

Schilling is back with the Red Sox. Oh, happy day. Son of Tito can leave Schilling on the mound to pitch the eighth and ninth and no one will call for the manager to be fired.

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

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