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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

One night too many in New York

Yankees turn the tables on Red Sox, 6-2, tie AL title series

NEW YORK -- After 85 years, 96 tears, and a million well-founded fears, you didn't think this was going to be easy, did you?

Some corners of Red Sox Nation were a little too happy yesterday. In the heady hours after Wednesday's Game 1 win over the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, there was a lot of chest-thumping about how much different everything is this year. Was it too early to make tentative World Series hotel reservations in Chicago and Florida? Any chance Boston's Band of Bald Brothers might clinch the pennant at Fenway this long weekend?

Whoa, pardner. Cowboy down. The Red Sox are not going to sweep the Yankees and there's a long way to go before they return to the World Series for the first time since 1986. Still proud and ever-professional, the Yankees beat Boston, 6-2, last night to even the series at a game apiece. Game 3 is tomorrow afternoon, featuring the irresistible matchup of Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens. Should be an easy ticket, no?

Andy Pettitte, New York's latter-day Whitey Ford, once again came through with a big game when the Yankees needed it most. Far from dominating, the Yankee lefthander gave up nine hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, but kept most of the Sox from scoring. The Sox had Pettitte on the ropes early but failed to deliver the Joe Louis punch. In the first rotation of the Boston lineup, seven Sox reached base (six hits) but only one scored. Nick Johnson's second-inning, two-run homer did the most damage to Sox loser Derek Lowe.

There was some extra spice in the late innings as Yankee relievers came in tight on a couple of Boston hitters (David Ortiz and Todd Walker) and Bronson Arroyo plunked Alfonso Soriano.

So what now, Red Sox? Will the Sons of Grady Little return home and resume their monster mashing ways? Or will they validate those who see them forever destined to come in second to the Yankees?

Still tasting the Game 2 defeat, Sox first baseman Kevin Millar said, "Saturday night is going to be as electric as it's ever been at Fenway. I definitely think you're going to see a bunch of fans with shaved heads out there. They are the best fans in all of sports."

Reggie Jackson, a presence around the batting cage, once said, "When I played with the Yankees, we always knew we could beat the Red Sox."

And they did. So why should this year be any different? Any chance this Yankee team will panic against a muscle-flexing Boston team?

"I like the quiet confidence our team has," said Mr. October, now listed as a "special adviser" with the Yankees. "I don't think they'll panic. There was some concern when they lost the first game to Minnesota. And the Boston Red Sox are arguably the best team in baseball -- but we're going to find that out in the next two weeks. But there is a nucleus on this Yankee ball club that's been in eight playoffs and five World Series. The same people. Are they nervous?"

Folks in New England think the Yankees might be a little jumpy. And in the Cowboy Up autumn of 2003, Boston fans are convinced that this time, the Red Sox really are different.

The Yankees certainly have respect for the Sox. Nineteen regular-season games (New York won 10) convinced the Yankees that these Sox are less likely to unravel than some prior Boston editions.

Trying to explain the break from past failures, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said, "It's different people, different personalities, different chemistry, and different karma. Oh, and better hitting."

Seconding that emotion, Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "They are very difficult to pitch to because they have no soft spot."

George Steinbrenner, known to be newly obsessed with the Sox, added, "They're a good team, a tough team. They deserved it when they won in Oakland."

Great as all that sounds, this is not the first time Red Sox fans have been convinced that things are different. In the 1986 ALCS -- the last one in which the Sox won more than one game -- Boston crawled out of a deep hole, trailing three games to one and down, 5-2, in the ninth inning against California. The Sox came back to win the game, and the series, and their ever-angry manager, John McNamara, said, "I don't want to hear about choking or history or any of that crap."

New Sox owner John W. Henry, who has made millions (billions?) with his alternative investment firm, said, "History said that the British Empire was invulnerable, that Napoleon was unbeatable. I was a Laker fan, and history said they couldn't beat the Celtics. But eventually they did [in 1985], and then they became the dominant team. History isn't very good at forecasting the future. I've never met anyone in the financial world who can predict anything."

There. History means nothing.

New history is being written. Tomorrow. Sunday. And Monday. At Fenway Park.

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