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BOB RYAN

This scheduling leads to conflicts

Sorry, but what's the sense of wasting this kind of sporting entertainment on a cold April night?

"These are baseball games," said Boston's Jason Varitek, a batting star in last night's 8-5 triumph over the Yankees. "If you don't enjoy watching these games, you don't enjoy baseball."

The problem is we've already played one-third of our allotted 19 Red Sox-Yankee games before tax returns had to be filed or the starter's gun was fired at Hopkinton. This is absolute criminal scheduling.

A game like this should not be played on a frigid April night. A game like this should be played on a sweltering August night. It just should, and if you have to ask why, you just don't get it. But it sure was an interesting evening, and the 35,251 in attendance will have something to talk about at the workplace today.

Such as . . .

Mild-mannered batting coach Ron Jackson and Terry Francona each banished before the end of the fourth inning by home plate umpire Greg Gibson, whose conception of the strike zone didn't seem to match theirs.

Randy Johnson giving up three home runs, including the first as a Red Sox by both Jay Payton and Edgar Renteria.

Tom Gordon getting rocked again by the team for whom he once registered 46 saves in a season.

Keith Foulke throwing a staggering 53 pitches in two innings of work to pick up the victory.

And the wildest moment . . .

Gary Sheffield pausing to take a swipe of sorts at a fan he believed had punched him before making a throw back to the infield on an eighth-inning Varitek shot that hugged the right-field wall, the ball rolling all the way to the Mohegan Sun sign in front of Section 1.

This Sheffield/fan business caused a lot of commotion. The Yankees came charging out of the bullpen in support of their right fielder. Security men appeared from everywhere. It looked menacing. But the truth is, this was nowhere near the top of the list of bizarre fan happenings at Red Sox-Yankee games. I mean, can a guy taking a halfhearted poke at Sheffield compare to someone throwing a bolt at Mickey Rivers or a dart at Chris Chambliss? You'd almost have to say that things have seldom been more civilized around here.

As far as the actual baseball is concerned, we are, predictably, right where we started a week ago Sunday. Each team has won two of three at home. The Yankees beat Boston ace Curt Schilling. The Red Sox hit the aforementioned three homers (the third being a shot onto Lansdowne Street by Mr. Varitek) off the Big Unit to deprive him of a decision. The A-Rod saga continues (last night he was 1 for 5 with a bloop single and an RBI). The Mariano Rivera saga continues. The Yankees still can't hit Tim Wakefield. We haven't learned anything new.

What we do know is that it's time for these two to separate for a while. "It seems like they're the only team we play," said Derek Jeter, who was only half-kidding.

Going back to the ALCS, that is almost literally true. The last seven Yankee games of the 2004 season were against the Red Sox. Now six of the first nine games of the 2005 season have been against the Red Sox. The teams have arrived at the conclusion that enough is enough. It's time to glare at somebody else.

But this one will give the fans something to remember them by. The Red Sox got two-run homers by Payton (center-field bleachers) and Renteria (first row of the Monster seats), but Bronson Arroyo, who was laboring from the start, couldn't hold a 4-1 lead. The Yankees went ahead with a four-run fourth, a lead that Randy gave right back when Varitek redirected a 94-mile-per-hour fastball up and over the famed seats atop the Wall. And that's where we were, tied at 5, as the Red Sox entered the eighth.

Gordon was out there, and that is now a very welcome sight for Red Sox hitters. It only took two batters for the Sox to go ahead, 6-5, as Johnny Damon singled to center and Renteria doubled off the wall in left-center to score the noted author, who had been running with the pitch.

The real fun began four batters later. There were two on and two out when Varitek sent one down the right-field line. Sheffield, who had a problem or two with the treacherous Fenway right field last year, did not get a good read at all. He failed to reach the ball before it began negotiating the curve, and that means three bases, minimum. As he caught up with the ball, a fan wearing a blue jacket with a Red Sox logo and a Red Sox baseball cap, made a swipe. You can't say he was reaching for the ball, because he was nowhere near the ground. And if he was actually going after Sheffield, it wasn't with any real force. But that's not the way Sheffield saw it. He picked up the ball, made a physical gesture back at the fan, and then threw the ball back.

It was all stupid and unnecessary, but, in the end , nothing really happened. Joe Torre disagreed. "No question, these people shouldn't be allowed to walk the streets, much less come to a ballgame," the Yankee manager fumed.

Turning our attention back to baseball, we had the sight of closer Foulke going to 3 and 2 on four straight batters in the ninth. He needed 22 pitches to retire the side after putting the first two men on with nobody out. "I can't blame it on fatigue," he said. "My arm felt fine. My mechanics are horrible right now."

"He really battled," said Varitek. "I don't think he was worried about his pitch count. He's just trying to find himself right now."

Where the Red Sox and Yankees find themselves right now is behind both Toronto and Baltimore in the standings, but who's worried about that? It's April 15! The Red Sox and the Yankees are the two best teams the American League has to offer, and they will prove it. But the Feature Presentation is supposed to follow the Previews, not the other way around.

Schedulers: Wake up, will ya? We don't need to waste six of these precious games in April.

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