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Momentum swings are never far away

This is why the New York Yankees are potentially the most dangerous team in the playoffs. That six-spot they put up in the eighth inning against two of the best relievers in baseball - Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon - is proof enough that the Yankees can hit good pitching.

What are the chances they'll come up against a pitching staff similar to the Tigers of last season and get shut down again? I wouldn't bet the house on it. Anyway, that was a hard question to answer last night after they overturned a 7-2 Sox lead and took an 8-7 victory last night at Fenway.

"It certainly makes us feel better than it makes them feel bad," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "It's great for us. We lost a tough game in Toronto. We gave a lot away tonight. I want to say it's huge with 15-16 games left on the schedule. This is where emotion kind of takes over."

It didn't matter that Yankee bats had been absent for most of seven innings.

They had put people on base against Daisuke Matsuzaka, but failed to pull the trigger on the big inning. The logical thing to assume is once you get to the eighth and ninth innings against the Red Sox, it's pretty much over. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I don't know if Papelbon felt out of place entering this game with nobody out in the eighth and two runners on base, but the Yankees weren't fooled, awed, or impressed one bit.

What a beating.

Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back lefthanded homers against lefty Okajima. And they weren't cheapies. They were struck. After a walk to Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon stroked a double to the left-center-field gap. This was all the fun Terry Francona could stand. He came out to yank his lefty and it seemed strange that Papelbon was the guy he was going to. Eric Gagné was not up in that setup role he's supposed to assume.

"Emotion just grabbed us after the two home runs," said Torre. "Now you realize it's a three-run deficit and we have a chance if we can string something together."

The Yankees just kept on coming: an RBI single by Derek Jeter, who was 0 for 4; a two-run double to the center-field wall by Bobby Abreu; a go-ahead single by Alex Rodriguez, who earlier in this epic game was buckled on two strikeouts by Dice-K. This was a relentless barrage of hits.

It wasn't as if they whacked around Javier Lopez or Devern Hansack. They destroyed arguably the best lefty setup guy in baseball. They pounded a lights-out closer who had hurled 15 2/3 scoreless innings before the attack. What appeared to be a night in which the Red Sox would go 6 1/2 games up turned instead to a night they ended up just 4 1/2 up, four in the loss column. What's worse, the confidence the Yankees keep gaining against the Red Sox grows stronger by the day.

"For me, the big at-bat was the walk to Melky," said Damon. "Walks will always hurt you. It allowed me to come up and get my bat on the ball for the double. This is very sweet. We need to win games. We're fighting for a playoff spot." To do it against Papelbon, well, "he's still one of the best in the game."

The Yankees had swept the Sox in New York Aug. 28-30 and have now won five straight against them. OK, there's no momentum in baseball from series to series, right? Maybe not. But the trend here isn't very good. It's not one the Red Sox want the Yankees to keep embedded in their psyche for now or at playoff time, when they could meet for the American League Championship Series.

The Sox had a chance to send the Yankees reeling toward their second straight loss after the Bombers' seven-game winning streak was snapped by Toronto Thursday.

The bad news for the Yankees is that Andy Pettitte didn't have it last night. The Sox roughed him up pretty good. If there's one area the Yankees are vulnerable, it's their starting pitching, where Chien-Ming Wang and Pettitte are normally their anchors. OK, before last night's game, Yankee starters were 5-0 with a 2.15 ERA over their last five games, yet the rest of their rotation appears to be a crapshoot. Roger Clemens will oppose Curt Schilling tomorrow, but the Rocket has ligament damage in his right elbow, so his playoff status is hanging by a thread.

But the state of the pitching staff was far from the Yankees' minds after they snatched a win in a game they had no business winning, as even the great Jeter was making errors early on.

"It was definitely one of the craziest games I've seen here," Damon said. "There's no giving up on this team. Joe had just told us that anything can happen in this ballpark and not long after he said it, Jason [Giambi] hits a home run."

There is no magic potion for stopping the Yankee attack, either. You've got to throw the Tigers' stellar rotation of last season on them to do it. You can't even stop them with two of the best relievers in the game.

"If you just look down the lineup, there's no easy out," Damon said. "There's no quit in us. We put together some great AB's and when you do that, balls start falling in for hits. They start finding holes."

And then it just snowballs into a game the Yankees surely needed more than the Red Sox. Maybe it's too late for any chance of winning the AL East, but it's not too late for the Yankees to gain momentum heading into the playoffs.

Timing is everything.

"It wasn't one of our better efforts, but it sure was a great result for us," Torre said. "We never gave up on the fact that we could win. When Jason messed up the ball on the double play, that was the kicker because it was 5-2 at the time, but this ball club never stopped fighting and never stopped screaming. We knew it was ugly, but you can't do a lot about that, other than go out there and try to score some runs.

"Papelbon comes out of the bullpen and you certainly can't explain that because he is a special kid, but we're a good team and we just caught fire at the right time."

Indeed, that's what the Yankees can do. They are potentially the most explosive team in the tournament. And last night they showed that beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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