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Brushing off the buzz

Plunking hasn't changed Arroyo

So, Bronson Arroyo, will you pitch Alex Rodriguez any differently tonight in Yankee Stadium than you did the last time you faced him at Fenway Park July 24?

The last pitch Arroyo threw Rodriguez was a sinkerball that struck A-Rod in the upper arm. Rodriguez took strong exception, triggering a chain of events that ended with a benches-clearing melee. Five players were suspended, with Rodriguez and Jason Varitek each sitting out four games and Yankees pitcher Tanyon Sturtze three. Gabe Kapler and Trot Nixon won the appeals of their three-game suspensions.

Arroyo is scheduled to face Orlando Hernandez tonight in the opener of a three-game showdown in the Bronx, with the Yankees holding a 3 1/2-game lead over the Sox in the American League East.

"I'm going to pitch him just like I would have pitched him even if that didn't happen," said Arroyo, who was not disciplined for the incident. "I'm probably going to pitch him away three-fourths of the time and come inside a couple of times. You never know, one [pitch] might clip him, I don't know. That's just the way it goes."

Arroyo believes Rodriguez overreacted. After all, Arroyo leads the league in hit batsmen (17), largely because he needs to control the inside part of the plate to be effective and occasionally loses command of his breaking stuff.

Arroyo also has been one of the most effective pitchers in the league in the second half, going 7-2 with a 3.49 ERA over his last 13 starts. He lasted only 5 2/3 innings in the brawl game, allowing eight runs (six earned) before the Sox prevailed, 11-10, on Bill Mueller's walkoff homer off Mariano Rivera in the ninth.

Arroyo has started three games this season against the Yankees without a decision, logging a 6.00 ERA. But he indicated before he flew ahead of the team last night to New York that his confidence is higher than it has been all season. He blanked the Mariners over seven innings in a 9-0 victory in Seattle last Saturday.

"It's kind of nice that the team has been playing so well and I've been throwing the ball well lately," he said. "We've got some momentum that way. When [the Yankees] came here the last time, we were kind of feeling down. I'm looking forward to the game."

Burks 'very close'
Barring a setback, Ellis Burks expects to be activated as soon as tonight as he comes back from two knee surgeries. Burks, 40, who has gone from lightly jogging a week ago to sprinting around the bases before last night's game, expressed general satisfaction with his progress. He also hit against Pedro Astacio, who threw two innings of a simulated game.

"I'm very close," Burks said after the workout. "I don't expect to go out there and steal bags, but I'm going to run to the best of my ability and hopefully contribute to the club."

He acknowledged he continues to feel discomfort when he runs.

"There's a little hobble when I run," he said. "It's not a pretty sight, but I'm going to try to get over that."

Manager Terry Francona indicated he would use Burks primarily as a pinch hitter in the final weeks of the season. Burks almost certainly would yield to a pinch runner if he reached base.

"We really want to activate him because he deserves it," Francona said. "The truth is, he might help us win a game, but he also has stuck around here all year and been a good teammate. We're trying to give him every chance possible."

Tossup goes to NY
Should the Sox and Yankees finish the regular season tied for the division lead, they would meet in a one-game playoff the next day in the Bronx. The Yankees won the home-field advantage in a coin toss conducted by Major League Baseball. By winning another toss, the Sox would host the Angels if the teams finished tied for the wild card . . . Johnny Damon (2 for 5 with a three-run homer and four RBIs) reached safely in his 25th straight game. He has knocked in 12 runs in his last 10 games . . . Mark Bellhorn scored his 86th run of the season, matching his career high with the Cubs in 2002 . . . Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said his losing starter, Mark Hendrickson (8-15), will spent spend the rest of the year in the bullpen. "Get somebody else in the rotation and give them an opportunity," he said . . . Only a remarkable recovery would clear the way for Mueller to play this weekend against the Yankees. Mueller rejoined the team after receiving a cortisone shot in his injured right knee from his surgeon in Arizona and planned to travel with the Sox to New York. But team officials expected Mueller to need several days to benefit from the cortisone . . . Trot Nixon is expected to play tonight and Sunday as the Sox try to proceed cautiously with him as he returns from a Grade 2 tear in his left quadriceps. And Francona may pull Nixon late in the games. "It's going to [anger] him," Francona said. "He's the hardest guy to talk to in the seventh inning. It's like you have to put a helmet on before you go to talk to him." . . . The Sox activated lefthander Lenny DiNardo, who missed 64 games with a blistered middle finger and a pulled back muscle, from the 60-day disabled list. To make room, they designated infielder Tim Hummel for assignment. Hummel was claimed off waivers Sept. 3 from the Reds. The Sox also announced that third baseman Earl Snyder, who was designated for assignment Sept. 9, was outrighted back to Triple A Pawtucket. He went unclaimed through the waiver process . . . Varitek was named the 38th winner of the BoSox Club's annual Man of the Year Award. Varitek will receive the award Wednesday afternoon at the club's luncheon at the Newton Marriott. 

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