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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Yankee arms can apply hammer

Am I the only one who is concerned?

This World Series bliss has lulled normally discerning New Englanders into dreamy, doe-eyed romantics. Hakuna Matata, baby. No worries. So what if Pedro Martinez, one of the best Red Sox pitchers ever, is history? Who cares if Derek Lowe, the guy who earned the clinching wins in the Division Series, the American League Championship Series, and the World Series, was booted to the curb? The Red Sox have kissed off 254 career wins between them, yet somehow that doesn't seem to give anyone pause around here.

We won it all. The Curse is broken. The sun is shining (somewhere, anyway). Theo is a genius, Curt is a bloody icon, Jason is a pillar of strength and integrity, and Edgar sure has one heck of a glove.

What else do we need?

All I know is I can't fight this familiar feeling that has haunted me for decades.

It's pinstripe envy.

I want what the Yankees have. I want their starting rotation of Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, and Kevin Brown. I want Mariano Rivera in my bullpen (although I must confess, Keith Foulke ain't too shabby). Pitching wins games. The Red Sox proved that last October with a collection of resourceful hurlers who chewed up innings, pitched masterfully during critical moments, and did not miss a start because of injury. That's worth repeating: DID NOT MISS A START BECAUSE OF INJURY. Really, now. Can you honestly expect that to happen again?

I understand why Martinez was not retained. His asking price was too high, and if I were in Boston's front office, I wouldn't have overpaid for a 33-year-old diva with a precarious shoulder, either. The logic went something like this: we'll take Pedro's money, split it in half, and try to match his output with two guys, say David Wells and Matt Clement.

In theory, that would be fine, if the Yankees hadn't lured Johnson and Pavano aboard. Johnson is New York's answer to Schilling; Pavano is their answer to Clement. Tell the truth, now. Would you rather have Pavano, who won 18 games last season, or Clement, who can throw strikes, but has a wild streak that cost him his place in the Cubs rotation in the final weeks of the season? We know how the Red Sox felt. They wooed Pavano and Brad Radke, but came up empty on both and settled for Clement.

New York's No. 2 starter, Mussina, may have struggled at times last season, but he's a money pitcher, and he's younger and healthier than Wells, who is Boston's designated No. 2. Then there's Wright, who won 15 games with the Braves last season, and could be the wild card in all of this.

Ask any general manager, and he'll tell you to have starting pitching -- and depth at starting pitching is a gift. The Yankees have that gift. The Red Sox could sorely use it, because although we believe Schilling's ankle will heal and he'll be ready to reassume his throne as king of the hill, we don't know for sure. We know that even though Wells has all sorts of ailments that come along with being 41 years old, he's one tough son of a gun and will be a fan (as well as a clubhouse) favorite. But how many wins will that be worth? He's proven to be surprisingly durable over the last decade, but his struggles at Fenway Park are well documented.

Wade Miller is the most enticing signing of all, because if he's healthy, it changes everything. But that's a pretty big "if," and it concerns me.

But not you. I see the unbridled enthusiasm throughout New England and I must admit, it's a refreshing change from the usual pessimism that permeates these parts the minute Manny Ramirez misjudges a fly ball. It used to be when the Red Sox lost a game in April that the sky was falling. Now, apparently, the sky is falling, but Johnny Damon is going to catch it!

This much I'll say for the Red Sox: They've got great team chemistry. They've recently sent disgruntled pitcher Byung Hyun Kim packing, and the guys who remain genuinely like and care for one another. Those are the kind of intangibles that can win some games in the dog days of summer. With defense a priority in the Theo Epstein regime, I fully expected Kevin Millar and his teeny, tiny little shot glass to be sent packing, and Doug Mientkiewicz given the chance to prove he could hit at Fenway as an everyday player. I was wrong. Mientkiewicz is gone, and Millar is still here and remains one of those feel-good guys who keeps everyone loose. A lot of Boston players shuffled around when they were down, 3-0, to the Yankees and dutifully spouted the party line that their team could turn it around, but Millar actually believed it when he said it, and did a pretty good job of convincing his boys to buy in, too.

Conversely, the Yankees were hardly a band of brothers in 2004. The way the players avoided Kevin Brown when he stormed into the dugout after getting shelled by the Sox in Game 7 spoke volumes of how his team felt about him last season. It's no secret Alex Rodriguez rubbed a number of Yankees veterans the wrong way with his showmanship. The lack of support coming his way after his slap-happy incident with Bronson Arroyo was telling. Having said all that, the Yankees have been far too respectful and humble in the wake of their collapse to Boston. They have said and done all the right things. They have regrouped both on and off the field.

Very disturbing.

The Yankees are not without weaknesses, of course. Their core group is getting older, and you wonder how much longer 36-year-old Bernie Williams can be an everyday center fielder. In fact, manager Joe Torre has already conceded he will spell Williams when he can. The middle relief hurt New York in the postseason. Pavano's career mark is still under .500, and he's not known for pitching deep into games.

Luckily for the Yankees pitchers, they don't have to punch out a lineup that includes Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Gary Sheffield, and Hideki Matsui. Now that's a meat of the order.

Stop worrying, you say. The Yankees will win the American League East, like they always do, then Boston's Boys of Summer will take the postseason by storm as the wild-card entry. Miller will pitch a no-hitter in Game 7 of the ALCS and Renteria will making a diving stop at short to preserve the win. The Yankees will fall, and the Red Sox will extend their World Series trophy tour to loyal fans in Tasmania and Antarctica.

It all sounds nice. I'd like to buy in, but those little thin blue lines keep blurring my vision.

Pinstripe envy. It's a lifelong affliction with no known cure.

Jackie MacMullan's e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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