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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Johnson hit hard in New York

He makes a ton of money. He's been on a World Series winner. He's moved over from the National League this year and been thrust into the heat and hype of the American League East. He's not yet performing at his normal level and he's taking some abuse in his new hometown.

Edgar Renteria?

No.

Randy Johnson.

There'll be no shortage of sidebars when the suddenly unraveling Red Sox splash down at Yankee Stadium tonight. We've got the Yankees' surge and the Sox' late-May collapse. We've got the Hub's favorite dartboard, Alex Rodriguez, telling the world that he's seeing two therapists, while he's also leading the majors in home runs and RBIs. We've got some Sox players pining for the return of Dr. Bill Morgan, Keith Foulke struggling to find his mojo, and the injured and ever-insufferable Curt Schilling calling WEEI to tell everyone in the world how to do his or her job. We've got Johnny Damon telling the Associated Press that the Sox are a ''bad team." We've got what should be a pretty fascinating three-game series as the southbound Sox continue to learn what it's like to go through a season as reigning World Series champions.

And tonight, we've got Randy Johnson taking the hill with something to prove.

Think Edgar's got it rough in Boston? Take a look at what the Gotham tabloids did to Johnson after he was routed by the Mets at Shea Stadium Saturday:

Mike Lupica (''Unit Not Coming Up Big" -- New York Daily News): ''And so far, even by the evaluation of the Yankee manager, who could find blue sky in a force-five hurricane, all Randy Johnson has been is the best of a mediocre lot."

Jon Heyman (''Johnson Sounding Like A Man Who's Lost It" -- Newsday): ''Before the Big Stiff transforms back into the Big Unit, he has quite a few things to clear up . . . He's so bad that the Yankees should be checking whether he's somehow tipping his pitches."

Joel Sherman (''So Far Big Unit A Big Dud" -- New York Post): ''It all added up to an embarrassing ending to an afternoon when Johnson introduced himself to New York-New York baseball as the Big Useless."

Yikes. As the Big Schill himself might say, ''Now that's a cheap shot." Johnson, a man who is being characterized as ''useless" and a ''stiff," is actually 4-3 with a 3.94 ERA. Those aren't exactly Wasdin-like numbers. But much is expected from a man with Johnson's resume. He was brought to New York to do what Schilling did for the Sox last year, and thus far the natives are unimpressed.

''It's tougher on him now because he's pitching in the American League again," former Sox infielder John Valentin said this week. ''And he was getting hit when he left Seattle."

The Mets routed the 41-year-old Johnson for 12 hits and four runs in 6 2/3 innings of Saturday's 7-1 Yankee loss. Johnson managed only five strikeouts and gave up hits to Mets pitchers Kris Benson and Dae Sung Koo. Johnson topped out at 94 miles per hour on the Shea Stadium scoreboard radar gun and threw consistently in the 90-92-m.p.h. range.

When he arrived in New York, Johnson's age was not considered a drawback -- and why would it be, given the performances of folks named Clemens, Maddux, Wells, and Schilling? But now, Yankee Nation is worried. Pinstripe fans are concerned about the aging Bombers and their ability to overcome the Sox and Orioles (and let's not forget those pesky Blue Jays when speaking of the balance of power in the AL East).

Johnson is a five-time Cy Young Award winner. The Yankees are committed to paying him $46 million over the term of his contract. The Unit is supposed to represent a guaranteed win every time he gets the ball. He was hired to be a primo front man for Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, and friends. But batters are catching up to his fastball and his slider. And he's not hitting his spots. The Big Unit is not a ''stiff" nor a ''dud," but he's not been the dominant, lights-out starter the Yankees thought they were getting.

Still, it's early. Johnson could erase all doubts with a boffo performance against the Sox tonight. He held Boston to five hits and one earned run in the Yankees' 9-2 victory on Opening Night. He struck out six, five looking. He was the Randy of old.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre say they are not worried about Johnson. They believe in their veteran team and they think they have the firepower to overcome the Sox and the other wannabes in the East.

Tonight will be a good test. The Red Sox are struggling. Johnson should be able to put them in his pocket. If not, beware of the Big Apple Backlash. Boston is not the only town that's tough on highly paid newcomers.

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


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