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History? It's time to get past that

During the Red Sox-Yankees series the Globe is exchanging sports columns with the New York Times.

NEW YORK -- Just like in the old days, the Red Sox were in the Bronx last night, battling the Yankees. For the fans, it was as if Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk were still going toe-to-toe at home plate, with all the raucous old chants coming out of the stands.

Obviously, the Sox' 5-2 victory over the Yankees will not make up for the imbalance between these franchises since the big feller moved from Boston to New York. But last night was not about 1918 or 1978 or all those other years that still haunt New England.

This game was about a bunch of contemporary dudes ("idiots," Kevin Millar called himself and his teammates), most of them with their hair shaved off. These Red Sox are not necessarily the 25-players, 25-cabs Red Sox of the past. And they couldn't care less about the Babe or Bucky Dent. History is for the fans. Just don't expect the players to get caught up in it as much as the general population. "I don't think we're battling the Curse of the Bambino here," manager Grady Little said before last night's game.

"We're battling the New York Yankees, and this group of renegades that I'm putting out on the field, they don't care," Little added. "They care about their Harley-Davidsons running good enough that they won't run off the Tobin Bridge over there in Boston, and playing baseball."

Most ballplayers are like Mayflies. They come and go. But you never know. This just could be the short, glorious life span for some new champion.

David Ortiz, who grew up in the Dominican Republic and came up in the Minnesota organization and joined the Red Sox only this season, creamed a two-run homer into the upper deck high above the area once known as Ruthville. The contemptuous Yankee fans -- the carriers of the rivalry -- tossed the ball back onto the field, but the home run counted all the same.

These Red Sox derive energy from new players who did not grow up in New England, hearing wintry tales of big games that got away. Millar, born in Los Angeles, a resident of Beaumont, Texas, had some good numbers with the Marlins but was heading to Japan to play for the Chunichi Dragons last winter when the new Boston general manager, Theo Epstein, put in a bid for him.

They wanted Millar for his bat, but they also got his bluster in a clubhouse that, in the past, has been dominated by private people like Williams and Yaz and Nomar.

Millar goads his teammates to think of themselves as the legendary American hero, the cowboy. And he set the tone for the basic-training crew cuts sported by most of the Red Sox this week. Last night he had two hits and drove in a run and did not jump up on a table and scream, "This one was for Johnny Pesky."

It is a new October. Kevin Millar is no more responsible for Harry Frazee's sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees than effervescent young Dontrelle Willis is responsible for Wayne Huizenga's callous dismantling of the 1997 world champions in Florida.

It is great fun to get caught up in the old rivalries and the hexes in this glorious month. The doddering old sport has lucked out again with charismatic stars like Ivan Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, and Jeter still going in October. Now the Red Sox have new players who babble about being cowboys and who shave their heads. With any luck at all, they will add new swagger and new myths to this ancient rivalry.

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