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Rivalry still in warm-up mode

Page 2 of 2 -- In the Sox first inning, outfielder Jay Payton (who's looked great so far this spring) got on base again with a hard single, and Edgar Renteria nearly put the Sox on top with a long foul ball to left that was just foul. David Ortiz followed suit hitting a long fly ball that was caught at the track.

Edgar Renteria got the crowd into it for a short time in the fourth when he nearly went into the outfield on a ground ball in the hole by Andy Phillips. Rent made a strong throw to first but Phillips was just safe. The shortstop's play reminded a few of the Ft. Myers faithful of the old Nomar Garciaparra, back when he used to go deep in the hole and got the runner at first on a regular basis.

A quick relay made up for some earlier sloppy outfield defense by Trot Nixon and prevented the Yankees' Bubba Crosby from hitting an inside-the-park home run deep to right center, but suddenly the Yankees were on top 4-0 and the fans grew restless.

The Sox were kept off the board in the early innings and their offense was quiet until Trot Nixon hit a bomb off lefty Alex Graman to make it 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning. Nixon can hit lefties, just give him the at-bats, Tito.

The formerly juiced Giambi crushed a home run over the 410-foot sign in right center field off John Halama, which quickly prompted cat calls of "He's juiced, it must be the steroids!" from the frustrated Sox fans behind the Yankees dugout. The "ste-roids!" and "BAL-CO!" chants were pretty tame, however, and they died out more quickly than the ancient "Yankees You-Know-What" chants do at Fenway in the new millennium.

By the time it was 5-1 bottom of the fifth, City of Palms Park sounded like a library. Suddenly you could hear the Yankees fans get their old bravado back for the first time: "Third strings winning. You can't even beat the third string!", yelled one loud New Yorker.

The Olde Towne Team nearly got back into the game in the bottom of the fifth as Nixon came up with Renteria on second and Payton on third with two out, but the old dirt dog grounded out weakly to end the rally.

Suddenly the crowd was on its feet again like the good old days at Fenway, even though the champs were down by four runs, because the PA system was blaring the Neil Diamond favorite, "Sweet Caroline", as fans sang in unison "Whoa-oh-oh!" Good times never seemed so good. And that would be as good as it got for the Sox last night as the fans soon saw Luis Mendoza on the mound and Matsui scoring on sac fly to put the Empire up 6-1 at the top of 7.

The remaining highlight was watching Bausher strike out Giambi on a floater. There was one more brief rally as Ramon Vazquez ripped his second hard hit of the night and a single by center fielder Adam Hyzdu soon made it 6-2 Yankees.

The rally allowed one more chance for the crowd to get into the game and a chant of "here we go Red Sox, here we go" (clap, clap) broke out momentarily as I wondered why this old-school lyric has disappeared from Fenway, replaced by the more pedestrian and lazy "Let's go Red Sox."

Kenny Perez hit nice line drive that almost extended the inning but it turned out to be a double play ball. Suddenly non-roster invitees Jeff Bailey (first base) and Tim Hummel (third base) were holding down the infield for Boston and Kris Wilson got lit up in top of the eighth to turn a 6-2 beating into 9-2 slaughter.

You could hear a pin drop in the City of Palms again until it was replaced by the shuffle of feet leaving the stadium. Sure, Sox fans were disappointed in the final score, but hey, this is spring, they're in Ft. Myers with shorts on, not shoveling snow in Boston.

Good times never seem so good, so good, so good ... 

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