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Dan Shaughnessy

No-lose situation for the Nation

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 6, 2009
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NEW YORK - You've got to like the way this Red Sox-Yankee thing is going this year. The Sox swept the Bronx Bombers 10 days ago at Fenway Park and again this week in Thurston Howell's favorite ballpark.

That's 5-0 against the Yankees this year, folks.

The Yanks can't seem to get out of their way against the Red Sox. And the scene at the end of both games this week was dismal for the locals. It was Edgar Allan Poe stuff. It was rainy, foggy, and the stands were largely empty at the end of both games. It was quiet enough to hear a few Yankee fans hooting on the hometown team when New York's bullpen walked four Red Sox to force a run home in the ninth.

"Kind of a miserable night," said Sox manager Terry Francona.

And his team won the game.

"In the two games here, the weather was bad and there weren't a lot of fans in those seats behind our dugout," said Dustin Pedroia. "I don't know why."

Might have been the car-wash rains. Might have been the home team's performance. Might have been a demonstration against overpriced seats in an economic recession.

The Sox did their best not to gloat. It is only May. And they do play these guys 13 more times.

"It would be good to be 5-0 against them," reasoned Theo Epstein before the finale. "We all remember August of '06 when we went 0-5 against them."

Ah yes, August of '06. That was the first time Manny Ramírez quit on the Sox. That was the five-game massacre at Fenway that put the Sox into a freefall from which they never recovered. The 2006 season is the only one of Theo's six as GM in which the Sox did not qualify for the postseason.

Like twin brothers, the Sox and Yanks measure success by how they fare against one another. And in 150 games (including postseason) since this Red Sox ownership took over in 2002, the tally is now 75-75. How's that for eight seasons of parity?

One hundred and 50 games is almost a full major league season. When you figure that the rivals routinely play 3 1/2-hour ballgames (a sloppy 3:47 last night), it amounts to approximately 525 hours of baseball over parts of eight seaons.

"That's a lot of time I've spent in Boston," said Derek Jeter.

Boston's sparkling start against the Yanks this spring is particularly satisfying in the wake of an offseason in which the Sox and New Yorkers took opposite paths. In the winter of 2008-09, the Sox settled for once-great players at bargain prices while the Yankees finished their luxury-liner stadium and committed almost a half-billion dollars to free agents. This made it fun for Sox Nation to see Mike Lowell succeed where Mark Teixeira struggled (.200) in the three games in Boston (Teixeira rebounded with a pair of homers Monday night).

The courtship of Teixeira by Boston remains a sore subject in the Red Sox executive offices. The Sox feel they were used by agent Scott Boras and withdrew from the bidding, only to be shocked and chagrined when the Yankees came out of nowhere and landed the slugging first baseman. It was a page out of the A-Rod debacle of 2003-04, which changed everything for both franchises.

Theo rejects the notion that every Sox move is a strike or counterstrike aimed at the Evil Empire.

"We are aware of what they do, but we certainly don't focus on it," said the GM. "I thought the Red Sox focused on it too much at one time, and one thing we've tried to do is to get away from it and focus on the team and organization we've built.

"We don't go out of our way to try to block things they do. We don't buy into that. We're just building our organization and you can't do that if you're worried about moves a rival team makes.

"Like with Johnny Damon. It did not make sense for us to bring him back, regardless of where he was going to sign."

That said, Sox manager Terry Francona conceded he fired all his guns to win Monday's game, bringing in Jonathan Papelbon for a five-out save in a 6-4 victory that ended at 1:10 a.m.

"We had a lot invested in that game," said the manager. "It was a long night, [Jon] Lester pitched a good game; if there was ever a time we were gonna do that, that would be it."

All the games have been fiercely contested. Jason Bay (three homers against the Yanks so far) hit the dramatic, game-tying, ninth-inning homer off Mariano Rivera in the first one at Fenway. Kevin Youkilis won that one with a walkoff in the 11th. The next day the Yankees went out to a 6-0 lead, but were beaten, 16-11. The Sox won the finale, 4-1, a game that became instant folklore when Jacoby Ellsbury stole home.

"It seems like every game is the same with them," said Pedroia. "All of those games could have gone the other way. And we know they're playing without A-Rod now."

Bay's three-run homer staked Josh Beckett to a 4-0 lead last night. Johnny Damon answered with a three-run bomb in the third, then Chamberlain drilled Bay in the fifth. When Joba turned it over to his bullpen after his 12th strikeout, you knew it was over for the Yanks.

Still, no gloating.

"If they let this bother them, they're in trouble," said Papelbon. "I know it wouldn't bother us."

The Sox are better than these guys right now. See you in June.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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