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MICHAEL HOLLEY

Stay calm, this has yet to play itself out

My God, if there has been a more bizarre baseball sequence than this one in the 21st century, none of us has seen it.

This is stranger than Grady's infamous stroll to the Yankee Stadium mound -- The Little Walk to Nowhere -- last October. This beats Bud Selig throwing up his hands to halt an All-Star Game and Steve Bartman sticking out his hands to halt the Cubs' march to the World Series.

Alex Rodriguez, longtime Red Sox obsession, is a New York Yankee.

While I still don't believe the trade is devastating to the Sox on the field (I'll explain later), it certainly has triggered a few side effects among their fans.

I hate to be so honest in front of our smirking neighbors in New York, but the romance of Rodriguez was and is humiliating. Simply thinking about the time and energy spent on the man is enough to bring on nausea, dizziness, and belly knots of confusion.

The Sox were prepared to make A-Rod Inc. the face of their organization while shipping their soul, Nomar Garciaparra, out west. They longed for Rodriguez so much that they closed their eyes and actually thought they were slow dancing with their leading man. They awoke to find they were holding nothing more than a mannequin in a Rodriguez T-shirt.

How could the Sox play "50 First Dates" with Rodriguez for six weeks and then watch him run into bed with the Yankees after just a couple days?

What was it that principal owner John W. Henry saw that prevented him from signing off on the $15 million difference that separated the Rangers and Sox from making a deal? Henry's background is in numbers. His strength is making sound investment decisions based on formulas and logic, not emotion.

There is nothing but emotion now in Boston and the Bronx. Here, we force smiles through clenched teeth so the enemy can't detect the embarrassment. There, they laugh and laugh, giddy at the thought of placing a 6-foot-4-inch lightning Rod atop the House that Ruth Built.

How did this story, which amounted to nothing more than a Fenway wish, push everything else in the New England sports consciousness aside for more than a month?

Nomar and his agent were angry, but it was all right. Rodriguez was coming. Henry called the agent hypocritical, Kevin Millar said he was looking forward to playing with the one-man corporation, and Sox fans kept one eye on their Christmas gifts and the other on the daily Rodriguez deadlines.

All of that for a man who will be 200 miles away, playing for the next team he always wanted -- wink, wink -- to play for. He wanted to be a Met four years ago. He wound up a Ranger. He wanted to be a Sox. He is now a Yankee. He is most likely the No. 3 hitter in a lineup that resembles a Best-Of All-Star team, representing the top talent of today and the mid-1990s.

A couple of the trade's aftershocks have got to be frustrating to Theo & The Trio. They realize they cracked open a door that is going to be tough to close. Nomar always will remember that his bosses wanted the boy next door over him. It sounds petty, but it's one less issue the Sox needed in a clubhouse full of soon-to-be free agents and a first-year Boston manager.

The management team also understands it misjudged Tom Hicks's market options. Everyone knew the Rangers owner was playing a political game when he named Rodriguez a Texas captain and said he would be the team's shortstop on Opening Day. Hicks is clearly the kind of guy who couldn't find the truth if you gave him T-R-U-T and told him the last letter was somewhere between G and I.

But the (erroneous) feeling was that Hicks had to deal with the Sox if he were going to deal with anyone. He was losing money, and no other team in baseball was willing to take on the remaining $179 million of Rodriguez's salary.

Except the Yankees.

Of course.

This is usually the point in the story when someone who is not affiliated with the New York media complains about the evil Yankees and their payroll. That won't happen in this space.

The Yankee payroll is not the focus of their matchup with the Sox; the starting pitching is. New York spent more than everyone in 2001, '02, and '03. George Steinbrenner's team then watched the Diamondbacks, Angels, and Marlins win the World Series.

In every case, the Yankees lost to teams that had better pitching. As loaded as their lineup is now, they are going to see -- for the first time -- better pitching from a team in their own division. Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Derek Lowe are better than any three starters the Yankees have, and they're better in the regular season and postseason.

It is difficult, understandably, for anyone in New England to be soothed by that argument. For one, all baseball fans become residents of Temptation Island before the real games are played. Big bats and the big names that carry them mesmerize us, no matter how many times we've been drilled about good pitching and strong defense up the middle.

Plus, there is always some reminder of a decades-old topic that distracts many a New Englander. It's the fear that New York has something Boston covets. A budget. A manager. A player. Something.

New York has someone Boston wanted, but this time the theme is not a tragic one.

Bizarre? No doubt.

A dose of humiliation after a whole lot of flirting? Uh, yeah.

Tragic? Nah. The Sox have some people who can play a little bit, too.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is holley@globe.com.

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