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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Still a bit too early to panic

NEW YORK -- In the arrogant capital of baseball championship entitlement, this Opening Week series is being viewed as a restoration of the natural order of things.

The Yankees are beating the Red Sox in the blowouts and the Yankees are winning the close ones. Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano are better than David Wells and Matt Clement. Derek Jeter is the Tom Brady of baseball and the Yankees are the obvious favorites to finish first to Boston's second for the eighth consecutive season. Oh, and when do Red Sox fans revert to pathetic panic and start toting signs that read, "Bring back Orlando Cabrera"?

Yesterday's 4-3 Yankees win on Jeter's walkoff homer drove a stake through the heart of Red Sox Nation and prompted some questions about folks maybe "panicking" back home.

"We're obviously not a group of guys that do panic," said Jason Varitek, who provided Boston's best moment of the young season when he homered off the once-indomitable Mariano Rivera to tie the game in the top of the ninth.

Varitek's right. Two games in April cannot dim the memory of the history that was made here last October. We know that the Sox won six of seven against New York last April, but still finished in second place. We know that none of it means anything until high school girls are playing field hockey and children are buying Halloween costumes.

So panic not, gentle readers. Just enjoy today's game when Tim Wakefield tries to stop the bleeding in this once-haunted house. And look forward to Monday, when the Sox get their rings while the Yankees eat bad food in the visitors' clubhouse at Fenway.

Commissioner Bud Selig was in the Bronx yesterday and will be at Fenway for the home opener. He's the man who facilitated the bag-job sale of the Sox to John Henry and Friends and he knows how good this rivalry is for baseball.

And it is good. For those of you still scoring at home, the Sox and Yankees now have played 54 games (including postseason) since the start of the 2003 season and each team has won 27 times. And each team has won an AL pennant in a seven-game series at the expense of the other.

Yesterday's duel would have been an ESPN "Instant Classic" if it had been played in October. Both teams got ninth-inning home runs from their captains. And the homers came at the expense of two pitchers who have been on the mound for the final out of a World Series victory.

Sox fans are not likely to worry about Foulke, who left a 3-2 fastball up in the zone and paid when Jeter sent it over the right-field wall. Nor will there be much concern about Manny Ramirez, who has played the first two games in a catatonic state, going 0 for 8 with four strikeouts and leaving the bat on his shoulder most of the time.

But poor Edgar Renteria needs a break in the worst way. The $40 million shortstop -- the man who hit the infamous championship-clinching ball (off Foulke) that became Doug Mientkiewicz's retirement fund -- is 0 for 8 with two strikeouts and two double-play ground outs. One more game like this and Sox fans will be praying for a return to the Cesar Crespo era.

Renteria's error yesterday was a killer. With one on and none out in the third, Alex Rodriguez hit a room-service double-play ball to Renteria that clanged off the heel of the shortstop's glove and bounded into left-center field. After the Yankees scored their first run on a ground out, early MVP front-runner Hideki Matsui crushed another homer to right.

"I have to make that play," said Renteria, the polite veteran. Deflecting a question about possibly being nervous, he said, "I got a lot of confidence in me and I know we are a good team. I'm not nervous."

"Obviously, the guy is trying hard," said manager Terry Francona. "And the good thing is that our guys won't let him feel like he's by himself."

Clement, who was the victim of the error, said, "I've watched Edgar play for six years and I'd be surprised to see that happen again this year."

Remain calm. That was the message in the Red Sox clubhouse after the second straight loss. Game 2 was a much better showing than Game 1 and Wakefield is probably a good person to have on the mound for the series finale this afternoon. He'll be trying to push past the 4 1/3-inning barrier (both Wells and Clement left before getting a second out in the fifth inning). Plus, there's mounting evidence that the Sox are into the head of Rivera ("It's probably because we've seen him so much" -- Francona). Check the accompanying chart and feast from a veritable Whitman's Sampler of Rivera's blown saves against the Sox.

"I was thrilled we got back in the game, but on the road there's some peril there," said Francona. "We played better today and we're playing maybe the best team in baseball. Sometimes one mistake is too much. Things get magnified early."

Yes they do. The Sox have yet to see a starter finish the fifth inning, Manny and Edgar are hitting .000, and the defending world champs have the worst record in baseball.

The planets are back in alignment. The Yankees are beating the Red Sox. But we dare not forget the lessons of October. Try to remember that if the Red Sox lose again today.

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

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