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BOB RYAN

NY powers up with A-Rod

Geez, Joe, whaddya think?

Derek third, A-Rod fourth, and Giambi fifth? Or Derek second, A-Rod third, Giambi fourth, and Posada fifth? Sounds good, but then who's gonna tell Sheffield he's batting sixth?

And then there's Matsui. Isn't there an entire nation that now thinks its man should be occupying a prime spot in your order, not batting seventh? Which leaves Bernie -- omigod, it can't be -- eighth?

Lou Piniella doesn't have these problems.

Terry Francona doesn't even have these problems. At least Joe Torre knows who's bat-

ting ninth (the second baseman, whoever that will be). And first (Kenny Lofton). Now that Alfonso Soriano and a minor leaguer really are going to Texas and Alex Rodriguez really is heading to New York, here is what the lineups will look like when the Red Sox and Yankees get together this season: Varitek C Posada

Ortiz/Millar 1B Giambi

Pokey 2B Mr. X

Nomah SS Derek

Mueller 3B A-Rod

Manny LF Matsui/Bernie

Damon CF Lofton

Trot RF Sheffield

Burks/Ortiz DH Bernie

We'll get to the pitching in a minute. Just take a look at those lineups.

You'd maybe like to play the matchup game? Fine.

CATCHER: Jason Varitek vs. Jorge Posada

Both are switch hitters with power, but only some utter Red Sox knucklehead would deny that Posada is a better hitter. And only a Yankee knucklehead would deny that Varitek is the better receiver and leader. Both are coming off terrific years that had many people insisting each was his team's MVP. Put that mythical gun to my head and I'll take Varitek. EDGE: Boston.

FIRST BASE: Kevin Millar/David Ortiz vs. Jason Giambi

Millar's value to the 2003 Sox far transcended his stats, which were first-half heavy. Ortiz led the Sox in big hits. But Giambi is an ex-MVP who needed knee surgery and should be primed for a big year (provided he stays out of those front-page headlines, wink, wink). EDGE: New York.

SECOND BASE: Pokey Reese vs. Mr X

Reese quickly will become Derek Lowe's best friend, at least on game days. If he hits .250, great. If he hits .275, clear a parade date with Mr. Mayor. The Yankees might stay in-house (Enrique Wilson?) or they might just go out and buy Jeff Kent. Who knows? EDGE: Boston (for the time being).

SHORTSTOP: Nomar Garciaparra vs. Derek Jeter

If you don't already have your irreversible, utterly unalterable opinion formed, you can't possibly care. EDGE: even.

THIRD BASE: Bill Mueller vs Alex Rodriguez

The Sox guy is gritty, tough, resourceful, and defending American League batting champion who is coming off a career year. The new Yankee guy is the most productive shortstop since Honus Wagner and is very possibly the most talented baseball player of the past decade. Let the record show that it's Jeter who should be making the move to third, not A-Rod. So, if Derek is really a mensch . . . Oh yeah, EDGE: New York.

LEFT FIELD: Manny vs. Matsui/Bernie

Hey, he's a goofball, but he's still our goofball. Put down the customary .300/35/110 for Manny and enjoy the full show. (Last year was his best ever defensively, by the way.) Hideki Matsui is a really solid player who should improve his home run total. Bernie Williams is on the slide. EDGE: Boston.

CENTER FIELD: Damon vs. Lofton

At his best, Johnny Damon gets on base, steals a few when he gets there, and runs from Charlestown to Revere for fly balls. The throws, we won't talk about. But in his two years here he's been (a) Mr. First Half and (b) Mr. Second Half. Lofton has been a second-half savior for teams in need of a center field fix the last two years, but he's a long way from what he once was. EDGE: Boston.

RIGHT FIELD: Trot vs. Sheffield

Who here doesn't love Trot Nixon? He's just a plain, old-fashioned ballplayer, is what he is. Now he swears he'll hit lefties if given another chance. Sheffield is an immense talent, albeit an aging one. But he should have a big year. EDGE: New York.

DH: Burks/Ortiz vs. Bernie/Assorted Mr. X's

Signing Ellis Burks was very interesting, because if he has anything left, the Sox will have a formidable DH in the lineup 162 times, plus whatever, this year. Bernie ought to be a decent DH for New York, but it seems all you hear about with him anymore is shoulder, shoulder, shoulder. EDGE: Boston.

If you're keeping score, that's 5-3-1 in favor of Boston. But catcher and short are really too close to call, and second is officially an INC until we see whom the Yankees throw out there.

It's good conversation, but here is what really matters: Pedro P Mussina

Schilling P Brown

Lowe P Vazquez

Wakefield P Contreras

Kim/TBA P Lieber

Embree RP White

Timlin RP Quantrill

Arroyo RP Gordon

Williamson RP Heredia

Foulke CL Rivera

If Javier Vazquez is as good as some people think, it's tough to separate the first three starters. Tim Wakefield is more of a known commodity than Jose Contreras. The Yankees replenished their setup corps, and you wonder whether it's possible for Mike Timlin to pick up where he left off last year, which was Lightsoutville, USA. And while Keith Foulke had more saves, Mariano Rivera is still The Man.

STARTING EDGE: Even.

SETUP EDGE: Even.

CLOSER EDGE: New York.

Sox pitchers and catchers report Friday. But baseball's version of WWIII already has begun.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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