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BOB RYAN

Laugher was the best medicine

NEW YORK -- Behold The Laugher.

That's baseballese for a rout. Every once in a while, a game falls out of the sky that cannot be predicted or explained. It just is. In our ultimate day-to-day sport, there is always daily uncertainty. It is why grandiose pronouncements on baseball that are based on tiny samplings are foolish.

We all knew the Red Sox were better than they'd been playing of late, but when is anyone ever prepared for what we saw yesterday before an official gathering of 55,315 at Yankee Stadium? With 27 hits, the Red Sox came within one of tying a club record en route to a 17-1 thrashing that represents the biggest margin of victory the Red Sox have ever had -- yup, ever -- against the American League team from New York, and that includes Highlanders, Yankees, and representatives of the Evil Empire.

As the late, great Mel Allen would have said, ''How about that!"

It's kind of obvious, but we needed this," said Boston manager Terry Francona. ''Not as much the win, but to have the time to take a breath."

After four stinging losses, capped off by a messy setback Friday night, the Red Sox were relentless and merciless in this one, banging out at least one hit in every inning while batting around twice. Edgar Renteria, who has lifted his average 42 points in less than a week, had the game's biggest blow, a first-pitch fifth-inning opposite-field grand slam off Paul Quantrill, who was then called upon to take one for the team (seven hits, six earned runs while giving up the grand slam, a three-run homer to Trot Nixon, and a two-run shot to Jay Payton, all in just 2 2/3 innings). The Renteria wallop, his fourth lifetime granny, made it 9-0, which, even allowing for the recent shakiness of the Sox bullpen, put this one out of reach.

It was a Red Sox day from the second pitch of the contest. Johnny Damon jumped on a Carl Pavano offering and smashed it off the fence in right-center, missing a home run by a foot or so. Renteria bunted him over to third and David Ortiz brought him home with a sacrifice fly. A 1-0 lead seemed pretty nice at the time.

Damon had no way of knowing he'd get to the plate six more times. But this would turn out to be a day in which even Mark Bellhorn, the No. 9 man, had six at-bats. The Red Sox had the astonishing total of 57 plate apperarances against four Yankees pitchers, each of whom was reached for at least three hits and three runs. In order, Pavano was bad, Mike Stanton was terrible, Quantrill was woeful, and Buddy Groom was horrible.

By the time the Red Sox got through the seven-run fifth it was 12-0 and now the managerial wheels were churning. Was Francona thinking about lining up the pitching behind starter Matt Clement for the rest of the afternoon? Was he thinking about getting some people in? Was he thinking about getting some people out? How does a manager handle this situation, anyway?

''You covered about four of 'em," said Francona. ''You want to get guys out of there before they get hurt, but you can't do everything. Johnny Damon, in my opinion, needs to get out of that game, but [Kevin] Millar's not going to play center field. You try to pick and choose."

One easy call involved the catching. Rookie Kelly Shoppach, who will be the batterymate for David Wells tonight, was minding his business when the call came down to the bullpen that when Clement left the game in favor of Mike Timlin, he'd be going in. How fortuitous that a 17-1, 27-hit blowout had come along, just so the kid could make a stress-free major league debut.

Of course, any chance the kid would get a swelled head disappeared when venerable Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard announced him as ''Mike." It was an interesting at-bat, too. Not many people can say the outcome of their first major league at-bat was being hit by a pitch. Shoppach could have sauntered into any bar in town and announced with great accuracy that the patrons were looking at a man with a career major league on-base percentage of 1.000.

Among their 27 hits were the requisite number of seeing-eye singles, to be sure. But there were some certified bombs, too. Nixon's three-run blast off Quantrill went to dead center. Payton one-upped him to a degree by launching a shot to dead center that struck the wall in front of the black seats. We're talking Mr. October territory.

Renteria, Nixon, and John Olerud each had three hits. Yup, John Olerud, who was replacing Millar in the lineup. Olerud also hit the pitcher twice on fairly well-struck comebackers, for 1-6-3 and 1-4-3 putouts. ''I don't think I've ever done that before," said the man who now has 2,192 career hits.

One person who was not completely amused by all this was Wells. In case you're wondering if the next day's pitcher sits there and says, ''Hey, guys, how about saving a few of those runs for me?" we now have the answer. ''Everybody does that," Wells said. ''It's a normal reaction. And the way I've been going, I need 15 runs to win."

Don't even think about a carryover, in other words.

''Regardless of which side of this you're on," reminded Olerud, ''you've got to forget about it. We know tomorrow is a new day."

But it was a day a beleaguered Francona will tuck away in the memory bank, for at least a little while.

''It's nice to get off the field and have the Yankee fans [yelling] . . . I've missed that a little bit," he said with a smile.

May 28, 2005. 17 runs. 27 hits. In Yankee Stadium. Is that enough to get everybody's mind off Dale Sveum for 24 hours?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com

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