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Dan Shaughnessy

As it should be, this is the only game in town

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / June 9, 2009
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Our eyes were diverted last time the Red Sox and Yankees met. The Bruins were gearing up for Game 3 in Raleigh, N.C., and the Celtics were practicing on the parquet, thinking about rebounding from a Game 1 loss to the upstart Orlando Magic.

Those series both wound up going to seven games, but our winter teams were summarily drummed out of the playoffs within a span of four days - both bowing in stunning fashion at the big barn on Causeway Street.

So now it's just baseball, and the Red Sox and Yankees have our undivided attention at Fenway Park.

Typically, there is little to choose between these American League titans as they prepare to renew hostilities on Yawkey Way. The Yankees are 75-75 (including postseason) against the Red Sox since the start of the 2002 season (hello, John Henry) and come to town with a one-game lead over Boston in the vaunted AL East.

Here in the toy department, we live for hyperbole, and popular opinion holds that this series is more important to the Yanks than the Red Sox. Sure, it's only early June and there are 105 games left in the season (including three more Boston-NY series), but every citizen of Red Sox Nation knows that the Sons of Tito have beaten the Yanks five times in five tries this year, and that means the Yanks need a win to get the proverbial monkey off the backs of Alex Rodriguez and friends.

A little history of the games this year:

Things got off to a rockin' start on the night of April 24 when Jason Bay hit a tying two-run homer off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth to send things into extra innings. Kevin Youkilis won it with a walkoff homer in the 11th and the tone was set.

The next day, the Yankees bolted to a 6-0 lead but imploded under the weight of their bullpen and were routed, 16-11. Then came Sunday night baseball and Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home while Andy Pettitte slept.

The Sox went to New York a week later and we all got a good look at the hole where David Ortiz's jersey was buried in the new Yankee Stadium. The Sox won their first game in the new yard, a rain-delayed 6-4 victory that was clinched when Jonathan Papelbon completed a five-out save at 1:10 a.m. Then it was Josh Beckett beating Joba Chamberlain, 7-3, with Bay hitting his third homer in five games against the Bombers.

"All of these games could have gone the other way," said Dustin Pedroia as the Sox packed for home. "And we know they're playing without A-Rod now."

Wise words from the MVP. Rodriguez has returned to the Yankees and they are 21-10 since getting swept by the Red Sox. Mark Teixeira and A-Rod are giving Joe Girardi a Papi/Manny-like 3-4 combo (remember those days?). New York hits homers and scores bundles of runs. The Steinbrenners have a Murderers Row again. And the Yankee hurlers have aligned to a point where they're able to stick Phil Hughes in the bullpen.

The pitching matchups for this series are fascinating (though we're sorry we can't see Chamberlain pitch to Youkilis and it's unfortunate that the white-hot Jon Lester doesn't get a shot at the Yankees). Tonight it's the Florida Marlin alumni reunion of Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. Tomorrow it's Tim Wakefield against the once-great Chien-Ming Wang. Then comes the heavyweight bout of Brad Penny and CC Sabathia. Tons of fun.

Amplifying the drama is the notion that once again the Red Sox and Yankees are the class of the American League. This is the way it was in 2003 and 2004 when the rest of America got sick of Boston and New York as the center of the hardball universe. Since the Sox embarrassed the Yankees in October of 2004, we've seen a chorus line of mystery guests on baseball's center stage: assorted White Sox, Tigers, Indians, and Rays, not to mention the world champion Cardinals and Phillies from the senior circuit.

Order has been restored, and now it's the Sox and Yanks again. The only game in town.

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

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