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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Odds are fandom fell into trap

You did it again, didn't you?

You fell into the trap that these fun-loving, baseball-bashing Red Sox set for you. You became so enamored with their irreverence and their pizazz and their long hair and their long-ball capabilities, you actually convinced yourself they were better than the New York Yankees.

So what if the Yankees won the division? That was a minor detail, easily overlooked and ignored. The Red Sox were coming together. The Red Sox had momentum. Hey man, the Red Sox had style.

New York had nameless uniforms, tidy, cropped hair, respectful, measured sound bytes, and the resolve that has made their organization a model to be envied. How could we have all forgotten that above all else, the Yankees know how to win?

Don't feel bad. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas agreed with you. So did almost all the local media prognosticators (including yours truly). It certainly appears to be an unfathomable fact at this moment, but Boston was favored over New York when the American League Championship Series started.

All the T-shirt vendors in the Bronx, and the waitresses uptown, and the sanitation engineers on Broadway who told their bookies, "I Love New York," and backed it up with some greenbacks on their team, are dancing in the streets. Don't be surprised if a whole new bunch of little Bronsons are born in Queens nine months from now. Bronson Arroyo, Boston's previously unflappable young pitcher, finally cracked last night, showing the strain of facing baseball's most historic franchise in the biggest game of his life. Yet he is hardly alone in his misery.

So now the Sox are down, 3-0, and it's over, and everyone knows it, even the resilient Boston players who have never said die all season, and aren't about to start now. Give them credit for that, because there isn't much else to praise them for.

"We're in a tough spot," lamented Johnny Damon. "They're doing what we though we'd do in this series."

You can hang your bruised and battered Boston cap on the fact this series would be different if Curt Schilling was healthy.

You'd be wrong.

How could anyone have underestimated a lineup that features Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, and Hideki Matsui all in a row? And, just when you think Bernie Williams (.400) is too old and too slow to hurt you anymore, he kills you with those sleepy-eyed, timely hits. Just when you're thinking you'll get a breather because 36-year-old John Olerud is batting eighth, and he looks like he's all done, he takes Pedro Martinez out of the park, like he did in Game 2.

If you said Yankees second baseman Miguel Cairo was not to be feared, then congratulations. He is batting under .200 in this series, and is just about the only player from top to bottom that hasn't killed the locals in some excruciating fashion.

There was A-Rod, the Man Who Would Be King, going 3 for 5 against the club that wanted so desperately to install him at shortstop forever. He's now batting (.429) for the team that made room for him at third. There was Sheffield, who is now batting a ridiculous .692 for the series, enjoying his first postseason run with the boys from the Bronx. You'd think the World Series would be so close he can taste it, but, Sheffield cautioned, "I won't taste it until it's over."

No doubt the premise that the locals would prevail in this best-of-seven series was the Red Sox' pitching was superior to New York's damaged rotation. El Duque had a tired arm, Kevin Brown had a tired act, and nobody even thought to mention Jon Lieber.

But there was Lieber in Game 2, pitching his way into Yankee lore. There was Mike Mussina, a crafty veteran who shook off a mediocre regular season to humiliate Boston in Game 1. When you think back on the Moose's outing, the word that quickly comes to mind is "professional."

That's what it always comes back to with this team you want to despise, but grudgingly end up respecting. The Yankees walk like professionals, talk like professionals, and play like professionals. Three games into this disastrous series, they look like the slick Wall Street guys with the perfect hair driving their Mercedes to Easy Street, while the Red Sox look like overmatched school kids with shirt tails that won't stay tucked in, running up the street trying to catch a bus.

None of the comparisons are favorable. Boston's slugger and MVP candidate, Manny Ramirez, has no homers and no RBIs in this series. New York's slugger and MVP candidate, Sheffield, knocked in four runs last night alone. Matsui truly is Godzilla, one of the scariest hitters to terrorize Fenway Park. He added two more homers and five more RBIs to his resume in this laugher.

"This is what I thought this lineup could do," said Sheffield. "It was only a matter of time."

Damon, who has been a free-wheeling leader, both on and off the field for the Sox, has one hit in this series.

"Not good," Damon confirmed quietly. "Not good at all."

New York's leadoff hitter, Derek Jeter, who has been a reserved, yet effective leader for the Yankees both on and off the field, has done what he always seems to do -- accomplished all the little things that make him so special. He's only batting (.182), so why does it feel like he's killing Boston, too?

The beating that was delivered at Fenway Park last night was absolutely catastrophic. The Red Sox' bullpen was exposed. The Red Sox' base runners were embarrassing. Pitching? The joke is on Boston.

And think about this: New York watched Brown get chased after two lousy innings and still managed to beat the living stuffing out of its nemesis in its own park.

You can rip your own team if you'd like. You can bury the manager for some questionable pitching decisions (and you'd be right), and wonder aloud why Ramirez and David Ortiz are suddenly silent. You can rail at the baseball gods for replacing your beloved team with a bunch of impostors who should have stayed home and saved you another October of agony.

But when you are done, in the quiet of your home, with none of your friends around, admit the truth: the New York Yankees are a heck of a baseball team.

Again.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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