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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Bitter days ahead

Final spring fling for Sox and Yankees

TAMPA -- The best moment had to be late in the afternoon when Manny Ramirez spotted Enrique Wilson and went over to embrace his friend.

"No, Manny, no!" shouted Kevin Millar. "Don't do it!"

Too late. Manny hugged his friend from the Ritz as photographers scrambled for the shot. No doubt Manny and Enrique talked about that night they toasted one another in a Hub hotel when Manny was too sick to play against the Yankees. Manny also embraced Alex Rodriguez. I was a little too far away, but I could have sworn I heard Manny say, "Too bad we didn't get you, man. What a lineup we'd have had!"

Then there was the sight of Tim Wakefield, wearing the road Boston uniform, pitching to the Yankees for the first time since . . .

Oh, never mind. This was, after all, spring training. No need to drag up any of that old stuff. It's a new year and in Boston we never talk about the past.

The Red Sox played the Yankees last night at Legends Field and lost, 8-6. It was the second and final spring training meeting of the two teams that have turned Major League Baseball into a League Of Their Own. This one had far less of the hilarious hoopla that engulfed the March 7 game at City of Palms Park, when desperate fans slept overnight on the sidewalk for standing room and eBay was asking $500 for two seats.

Legends Field was calm for most of yesterday. The Yankees are flying to Japan (via Chicago) later today for a season-opening series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Tokyo next week. Joe Torre was more worried about jet lag and pitching rotations than any imaginary renewal of Boston-New York hostilities. Save that for April 16 at Fenway when they meet in a game that counts.

Yankee publicist Rick Cerrone joked about the absence of hype for the late-March exhibition. Preparing his game notes, Cerrone -- who got into a squabble with a Red Sox parking lot attendant when the clubs met in Fort Myers -- looked up from his keyboard and said, "This time it counts! Game 9!"

While the Red Sox bus was still in traffic on Interstate 75, Derek Jeter was the first player to pop out of the Yankee dugout. It was just after 3:15 when Jeter and coach Willie Randolph came out for some infield practice. Standing on the lip of the grass, Jeter took grounders for 15 minutes. No wonder these guys win.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman took a moment to comment on the rivalry, which has escalated to new levels of intensity in the respective front offices.

"It's real. You see the banter [polite word] back and forth between the ownership groups and whether it's a groundskeeper getting involved or the fans or the owners, the bottom line is that everyone on either side of the fence is extremely passionate about their club and that's certainly carrying over into the public arena now, with comments. The comments normally haven't been in the front office in the past and that's certainly turned up the heat even that much more."

Of his counterpart, Theo Epstein, Cashman said, "I don't talk to Theo that much because there's nothing to talk about. Our goals are the same. I know what he's up against, he knows what I'm up against. I joke that last year he almost got me fired on his first year on the job."

Joke? We don't think so.

The Yankees practiced popup drills at some length before batting practice. They have almost as many spring coaches as players and there's a reason they call this place "Legends Field." Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, Mickey Rivers, and Ron Guidry were just a few of the old-timers in uniform during the drills.

The Sox' bus arrived during the Yankee workout and Terry Francona said this game was no different than any spring game, including the circus in Fort Myers when the Yankees came to town. "You show up," said Francona. "You have your schedule prepared. You know what you're going to do that day."

Millar spent some time chatting with A-Rod. A secondary victim of Boston's long and very public courtship of Rodriguez, Millar is the one who went on record saying that A-Rod would be an "upgrade" over Nomar. And now he is Nomie's teammate again. Awkward.

It was interesting to watch Rodriguez smiling for photos with sponsors and VIPs after batting practice ("A-Rod, could you sign these for the folks from Microsoft?" asked Reggie). These are the kinds of extracurricular chores the Sox envisioned for Rodriguez in Boston.

With the wind blowing in, Gabe Kapler doubled over Kenny Lofton's head in center to start the game. Kapler moved to third on a flyball, and scored on a grounder to the right side by Ramirez. The Sox inadvertently took out A-Rod in the fourth. Brian Daubach was on first when Millar roped a shot down the left-field line. When Hideki Matsui saw Daubach round second, he threw to A-Rod at third. The throw bounced off Daubach's foot and caromed into the left side of Rodriguez's face. A-Rod left the game and Dave McCarty followed with a three-run homer.

The Sox led, albeit briefly, 4-2. A-Rod was out. Wakefield was on the mound. Payback? Sending a message?

No. None of the above. Just another exhibition game. See you April 16. And bring the earplugs.

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

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