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Competition between teams always is wicked

Are you surprised? After the Red Sox failed to acquire Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers for Manny Ramirez when the Sox wouldn't add a few million per year to the deal, did you doubt for a moment the Yankees would one-up the Sox? Did you think A-Rod would remain a Ranger, the Sox would enter the season with their trophy lineup against the Evil Empire, and may the better team win?

Did you believe for one second that the Yankees would allow the fans in Boston and many of the pundits to proclaim that Boston's team is better than New York's? That the Yankees would allow the Vegas oddsmakers to make Boston the preseason favorite in the division? If you thought the jockeying for position between the teams was over, shame on you. It's never over. With the Yankees, there is always the possibility they will drive stake after stake into the Red Sox fans' hearts until they win. Again.

Give the Red Sox this: They have fought the good fight with the Yankees ever since Boston CEO Larry Lucchino made the "Evil Empire" comment about the Yankees and owner George Steinbrenner after New York scooped prized righthander Jose Contreras out from under the Sox last winter.

Steinbrenner, obsessed with making sure the Red Sox are second in the American League East for the seventh consecutive time, reacted to Lucchino's remark at the time by saying, "That's b.s. That's how a sick person thinks." He also called Lucchino "the foremost chameleon of all-time."

The Red Sox went out this offseason and pulled ahead of New York by acquiring stud starter Curt Schilling from the Diamondbacks. That put a warm glow in the hearts of Red Sox Nation for the longest time, knowing they had not only beaten the Yankees for Schilling, but that their team had signed Schilling to a market-adjusted contract that meant they didn't overpay for one of the best pitchers in the game.

Yes, that felt mighty good following the greatest Sox tragedy against the Yankees -- New York's win in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series -- since Bucky "Bleeping" Dent's home run in the 1978 playoff game.

The Red Sox needed to let their fans, who have bought tickets at a record pace -- sales at more than 2.3 million already -- know they were serious about beating the Yankees once and for all. But now the Yankees, with the Rodriguez contract, might be outspending the Sox by as much as $70 million.

If there was any argument about whether this is the greatest sports rivalry, there can't be now. About the only solace Red Sox fans can take in this development is that A-Rod doesn't pitch, and that the Sox' rotation might be better than the Yankees'. Otherwise, an already excellent New York lineup, with the offseason additions of Gary Sheffield and Kenny Lofton, is now burning hot with Rodriguez, who has volunteered to play third base.

"If this is true, I'd have to say this deal swings the pendulum back to the Yankees," said Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who said he was shocked by reports that a deal in principle had been reached. Ricciardi knew he was up against two Goliaths in Boston and New York. Ricciardi's Jays have a payroll of around $50 million, and he made numerous moves that could transform the Jays from an 86-win team to 90 and beyond. But in the division they're in, that might not be enough.

"A-Rod is a big, big get for the Yankees," Ricciardi said. "Listen, before this, I thought the Red Sox had the best offseason of any team in the league. Acquiring Schilling and [Keith] Foulke are two gigantic moves. But now you're talking about one of the top one or two players in the game.

"From our point of view, it doesn't change much. We thought it would be Boston and New York that we had to find a way to beat. And that's still the same climb for us. You've got a team spending, what, $200 million? Another team that's at $125 million? It seems the Red Sox do have a limit. But it just looks like the Yankees have no limits."

Now, the whole ALCS Game 7 thing, Grady Little's infamous decision to let Pedro Martinez pitch in the eighth inning, seems to be seeping into the memories of Red Sox Nation again. It had been covered over a bit by the offseason moves, cast aside by the Red Sox' pursuit of A-Rod. But now the Yankees have come along and scooped up the best player in the game.

It conjures up the history of hatred between the teams, from Joe Cronin and Jake Powell coming to blows on the field in the '38 season to Bill Lee and Carlton Fisk going up against Thurman Munson & Co. in the '70s.

Most of that stuff is old to the current Red Sox players. They have scoffed at the "Curse of the Bambino," with Martinez declaring two years ago that he was sick of hearing about the curse and that he wanted to "wake up the Bambino" and "drill him in the ass."

Yet Martinez has been in the middle of the new-age Sox-Yankees drama. Not only was he the pitcher who gave up a 5-2 Sox lead in ALCS Game 7, but he also was the one who threw down coach Don Zimmer, charging from the Yankees dugout, in Game 3 at Fenway Park. Zimmer had become enraged at Martinez plunking Karim Garcia with a fastball near his head. Yankees fans think of Martinez as a cheap-shot artist for picking on an old man. And nothing made them happier than the Yankees winning that day, and Martinez coughing up the lead in Game 7 after Little had decided he was going to keep his best pitcher in the game.

Game 3 was also the one in which Paul Williams, a part-time groundskeeper, allegedly was attacked by two Yankees (Jeff Nelson and Garcia) when Nelson took offense to Williams cheering for the Red Sox while on duty in the Yankee bullpen. And well before that, in July, Martinez and Roger Clemens had dueled after Martinez hit Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano in the hand in retaliation for Clemens plunking Kevin Millar in an earlier game. Steinbrenner expressed outrage over Martinez going after his players. Martinez said, "He's not going to put any fear in my heart. He doesn't have the money to buy fear and put it in my heart."

Yes, the Sox have fought the good fight against the Yankees. They've tried to keep up with the Yankees' talent level, and with their payroll as much as they can. But the Sox always will come in second to the Yankees in payroll. And frustration about that sometimes has gone public, where even owner John Henry lamented the Yankees' unlimited budget after the loss of Contreras. To which Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, "That's just sour grapes."

Sometimes one just takes too much of a thumping. The selling of Babe Ruth. Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater. Lee having his shoulder dislocated in a '76 brawl, when he called Billy Martin and Steinbrenner Nazis. The Boston Massacre in '78. The playoff game that season when Carl Yastrzemski popped out to end the game. Losing the 1999 ALCS to the Yankees, and falling to them again in '03.

After a splendid offseason, when Boston in the minds of many fans and experts was the better team, at least on paper, the Yankees obtain the best player in the game not long after the Red Sox failed to pull it off.

Evil, indeed.

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