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Yankees contend all’s well

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 5, 2011

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TAMPA — Red Sox manager Terry Francona was at Orlando International Airport, leaving baseball’s winter meetings in December when he came across Yankees general manager Brian Cashman at a coffee stand.

The Sox had traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford that week and Cashman told Francona he had the new team to beat in the American League after the work done by GM Theo Epstein.

“I laughed,’’ Francona said last night before the Red Sox met the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. “He didn’t offer to pay, so I didn’t really listen to him.’’

The Red Sox, who beat the Yankees, 5-3, are judiciously avoiding talk of being favored after finishing third in their division last season. For them, spring training is about getting healthy and not looking too far ahead.

But the Yankees like how being the underdog feels.

“We’re not conceding anything,’’ Cashman said. “But when people say, ‘Hey, you know what? Theo and their ownership got a lot of areas that were question marks answers in the winter time.’ I did know . . . They’ve got the inside pole. They are the hunted; we are the hunters.’’

The Yankees are searching for two starters in camp. Bartolo Colon, the oft-injured veteran, was sharp last night with three scoreless innings and five strikeouts.

He, Freddy Garcia, Sergio Mitre, and 24-year-old prospect Ivan Nova are the leading contenders to join CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett in the rotation.

“We hopefully have the answers here. We do believe we have a lot of people who are capable and we hope they are up to the challenge,’’ Cashman said.

Do not expect the Yankees to obtain a starter via trade before Opening Day.

“Can’t rule it out, but it’s highly unlikely,’’ Cashman said. “Normally anything of quality doesn’t become available until after the June draft. That’s why you try and get as much as you can get accomplished in the winter . . . I know New York doesn’t handle patience very well. But I’m from Kentucky, so it’s a little easier for me to deal with.’’

In the end, he expects the Yankees to be right where they usually are.

“We’re still going to both have tremendous teams,’’ he said.

Cashman said he admired the additions of Crawford and Gonzalez, calling them superstar players who should flourish at Fenway Park.

“I think they’re significant. They got some real quality players. These guys are special,’’ he said. “But we’ve got a lot of special players here, too. I have a feeling that had a lot to do with why they got those players.’’

The Red Sox did not bring many of their special players last night. Clay Buchholz was the starting pitcher and threw to Jason Varitek. Jed Lowrie was the first baseman and the outfield included Ryan Kalish and Darnell McDonald.

Beyond that, the lineup card looked like something Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler would draw up for a game against Rochester.

The Yankees, playing before a stadium-record crowd of 11,325, started Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Jorge Posada.

“I looked at it and I was like, ‘Man, another All-Star team.’ But I think it’s good. It’s good going out there and facing guys like this,’’ said Buchholz, who tossed three shutout innings, allowing one hit with two walks and two strikeouts.

Buchholz has not allowed a run in five innings this spring. That is a product, he said, of throwing off a mound several weeks before he reported to camp.

“A lot of hard work,’’ he said.

Buchholz retired seven of the first eight batters before walking Greg Golson and Jeter. He ended a successful night by getting Russell Martin on a fly to right field.

The idea was to get some work in, not worry about the Yankees.

“I wanted to throw all my pitches,’’ Buchholz said. “They’re out there working, too, trying to get their swings and timing. The pitches during the season are different.’’

Buchholz is lined up to face the Yankees again March 14 at Fort Myers. But the Red Sox will have him pitch in a minor league game that day rather than tangle with batters he will see often during the season.

Despite their modest lineup, the Red Sox got to the Yankee bullpen. Daniel Nava had an RBI single in the sixth inning. Juan Carlos Linares had an RBI single and Oscar Tejeda a two-run triple in the seventh.

Jose Iglesias, the 21-year-old shortstop, was on base three times and made several dazzling plays in the field.

“I’ll take a two-hour bus ride to watch those young kids do what they did,’’ Francona said. “Linares, the game that Iggy played at short, Tejeda. That was worth the bus ride.’’

Even when it doesn’t count, the Red Sox playing the Yankees is something special. Three television networks and two radio networks carried the game. Optimistic entrepreneurs were seeking $250 for a seat in Section 105 on StubHub.com before the game and getting $100 for tickets outside the gate.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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