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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

One down, three to go

Red Sox clout 3 homers, beat Yankees, 5-2, in ALCS opener

NEW YORK -- Red Sox fans needn't overreact. Think of this seven-game series as a presidential election. Your candidate just won the New Hampshire primary, but the race is far from over.

Continuing their four-score-and-five-year quest to win a World Series, the Sox got off to a terrific start last night, beating the dreaded Yankees, 5-2, in the first game of the American League Championship Series. On the strength of three homers and Tim Wakefield's knuckleballs, the Sox announced their formidable presence in the Delta Shuttle/Acela Train/Fung Wah Bus Series.

David Ortiz, the Dominican Yaz, broke a scoreless tie with a monstrous two-run shot into the upper deck off Mike Mussina in the fourth and Todd Walker and Manny Ramirez (four hits) added solo shots in the fifth as Boston bolted to a 4-0 lead. Meanwhile, Wakefield was in the no-spin zone, frustrating the Yankees with an array of pitches that floated like butterflies and stung like bees.

Boston's 13-hit attack was nothing new to those who followed the Sox this year, nor was it a surprise to the Yankees. The Sox went 9-10 against New York in 2003, but roughed up Pinstripe pitchers for nine or more runs six times.

Walker, who already has four homers in the postseason, said, "I think in this case, great hitting beats great pitching."

"We talked about it all year," acknowledged estimable Yankee skipper Joe Torre. "You don't pitch well, they beat you up. And that's what they did."

Torre's counterpart, Grady Little, wouldn't be drawn into any discussion about setting a tone, saying only, "There's a lot of good baseball left between two good ball clubs and there's a long way to go."

American League rivals for 100 years, the Sox and Yanks will play again tonight in the Bronx before the Series splashes down at Fenway Park Saturday afternoon in a super-hyped matchup of aces Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens.

The Red Sox are already ahead of their 1999 pace when they last played in the ALCS. Boston dropped ther first two games of that series in New York and bowed out in five. The Sox were never really in it. Now they go home, 1-1, at worst, with the indomitable Pedro lined up for Game 3.

It feels as if the Yankees may be a little nervous this time. Joe Torre's time-tested team doesn't panic, but owner George Steinbrenner does, and he can't be happy to have seen his team thoroughly outplayed in the opener. George summoned the words of the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur to inspire his team, but there was no response in the opener. The Yanks managed only three hits against a quartet of Boston pitchers.

The Mussina-Wakefield duel was supposed to be a mismatch, favoring the Yankees. Most of the Sox hitters came into the game with abysmal career numbers against Mussina, but the Ortiz put a stop to the Moose madness with his rocket blast into the top deck. Ortiz was 0 for 20 lifetime vs. Mussina before the homer. So much for the veneer of invincibility.

Curiously, Ortiz's Ruthian (oops, we're not supposed to use that word) shot was greeted with cheers by a significant portion of the sellout crowd, indicating rare infiltration by Red Sox Nation in Yankee Stadium. The Sox are becoming a team that plays 162 home games, but New York represents the final beachhead for the traveling Sox fandom.

The first controversy of the series (it won't be the last) came in the top of the fifth when Walker led with a high fly ball that appeared bound for the right-field foul pole. A fan, sitting in four territory, reached over and appeared to stop the ball from hitting the pole. Right-field umpire Angel Hernandez signaled the ball was foul, but he was overruled by plate umpire Tim McClelland.

With two outs, Ramirez muscled a shot over the fence in right and did his usual jog down the first base line. Mussina did not make it out of the sixth, starting a parade of Yankee pitchers as the crowd booed. Kevin Millar singled home Ramirez for the Sox' fifth run in the seventh.

Wakefield, who starred with the Pirates in the 1992 NLCS, took a two-hitter and a 4-0 lead into the seventh, but was lifted after walking the first two batters. Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Scott Williamson -- three members of the suddenly impressive Committee -- kept the door shut.

"The bullpen's been great and tonight was no different," said Little.

Clearly, some of the good karma and winning ways from the wild, long weekend against the A's carried over into the first game against the Yankees.

"It's been an exciting past four or five days," said Wakefield. "The adrenaline is still running."

And the Red Sox may have the Yankees on the run.

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