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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Damn, Yankees do it again

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to baseball ...

ALEX RODRIGUEZ TO THE YANKEES?

This is where the late, great Ned Martin would pause and say, "Mercy.''

Everyone knows the Red Sox and Yankees have been lobbing pies in one another's faces with increasing frequency these past couple of years. We've all enjoyed seeing the rivalry ratcheted up to the highest levels. But A-Rod to the Yankees deals a crushing blow to the psyche of Red Sox Nation. Just when it finally looked like the Sox were ready to overtake their nemeses - after a terrific offseason of healing and reloading by the Boston brass - the Yankees get the guy the Sox coveted? On the eve of spring training? Say it ain't so, Theo.

A-Rod to the Yankees? It's instant folklore alongside Ruth to the Yankees, Lyle to the Yankees, Dent into the screen, Clemens to the Yankees, and New England burning down while Grady Little slept.

And now this: The Valentine's Day Massacre of 2004.

Think about it. The Yankees have a narrow 26-0 margin in world championships since 1918. The Red Sox have finished second to the Yankees for a record six consecutive seasons. The Sox and Yanks met a record 26 times last year and Boston was ready to vanquish the Evil Empire in the Steinbrenner Motherland when the mind-blowing collapse came down last Oct. 16. And now the Yanks are getting A-Rod after Boston's failed bid for the superstar turned the Fenway franchise inside-out for the better part of two months?

How pathetic does this make the Sox look? How are Hub kids in Boston and New York dormitories supposed to answer the taunts of those arrogant, entitled Yankee lovers?

The Red Sox were willing to trade their two best everyday players to acquire Rodriguez. They were willing to assume the remainder of a quarter-billion-dollar contract. They were willing to say goodbye to Nomar Garciaparra. They were willing to maybe even pay Manny Ramirez to hit home runs against them. They were willing to do just about anything to put A-Rod in a Red Sox uniform. And now he's going to the Yankees?

What about Rodriguez's love of all things Boston? He toured Harvard, remember? Think Columbia has Pinnochio's Pizza, Hasty Pudding, The Game, and a magazine called H-Bomb?

What about A-Rod's wife having relatives in the Lowell area? Think they'll want to ride the Fung Wah bus to New York to see their in-law infielder?

What about A-Rod's lunch dates with the gentle Sox owner? Doesn't that mean anything? Can playing for the blustering Steinbrenner be as much fun as talking pork bellies with John Henry?

And where's A-Rod going to find a teammate like Kevin Millar? Is there a Yankee in the clubhouse willing to come out and say that A-Rod would be an upgrade over Derek Jeter (even though A-Rod will play third base in Gotham)?

Sox fans can try to find a bright side here. Let's remind everyone that Alfonso Soriano, the player bound for Texas, still could be the next Hank Aaron. Let's laugh at that Yankee payroll of more than $200 million, and King George's outrageous luxury tax payments. Let's remember that the Yankees haven't won any of the last three World Series and just lost 60 percent of their starting rotation. Let's remember that Kenny Lofton, Gary Sheffield, and Kevin Brown never will win clubhouse congeniality awards. Adding A-Rod doesn't necessarily vault the Yankees back ahead of the Red Sox (Vegas wiseguys last week had the Sox favored to win it all).

Unfortunately, all these rational arguments will be tough to make when your Yankee friends are laughing at you about having Jeter and Rodriguez on the left side of their infield.

It's not that A-Rod is that much better than Soriano, Manny, Nomar, or any other star player. It's that A-Rod was the guy the Sox coveted.

A-Rod to the Yankees represents Steinbrenner at his diabolical best/worst. It's like having your best girl agree to marry you, finding out you can't get married because your church won't allow it, then watching her marry the guy you hate most in the world. Hide the sharp objects and post guards at the Zakim and Tobin bridges.

It's not that bad, of course. It's only baseball.

But it's just one more dagger through the heart of the Nation. Damn Yankees. It just never stops with these guys.

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

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