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Smooth sailing on return flight

NEW YORK -- It was like driving through the old neighborhood and passing the spot where your dog got run over when you were 10 years old.

This is a place where something terrible happened and it was hard for anyone from New England to come back here without remembering how things ended six months ago. The last time the Red Sox occupied the visitor's dugout at Yankee Stadium, they were cursing, crying, and kicking buckets of Gatorade while Aaron Boone circled the bases.

"It'd be pretty unprofessional if we couldn't put that behind us," Jason Varitek said of the crushing extra-inning defeat in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

And so they did. The steamrolling Sox last night pounded four home runs and routed Jose Contreras again in a deliciously easy, 11-2 victory that gives Boston four wins in five games against the hated Yankees. Oh, and the first resounding booing of Alex Rodriguez came in the sixth inning when A-Rod grounded to short with the Sox leading, 7-0.

"We'll take it," said Johnny Damon. "We hope they don't hit for a little longer."

It was hardball heaven for Hub road trippers.

No one from Boston's upper management was on hand, which was unfortunate because there is much titillation in the front office every time the Sox bash Contreras. Remember, it was Boston's futile pursuit of this alleged master hurler that provoked Larry Lucchino's Evil Empire remark and put the two franchises into superstar stockpiling overdrive.

It all started with the hunt for Contreras in the Dominican Republic after the 2002 season. The Sox were outbid by the Yankees, Theo Epstein allegedly did a Keith Moon number on his hotel room, and Lucchino said, "The Evil Empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America." George Steinbrenner was not amused. Lucchino's flip remark has become the Red Sox-Yankee equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. It reignited the century-old rivalry, triggering new hostility and competition. It was the precursor of last winter's A-Rod madness.

Which is why the Sox love to knock Contreras around the ballpark, making King George's $32 million investment look silly. Any Red Sox rout of Contreras is like watching a giant Cuban cigar explode in the Boss's face.

Contreras's career numbers against Boston: 0-3 with an ERA of 18.00 (20 earned runs in 10 innings).

"I don't know about the bidding war, but we've had great at-bats against him," said Kevin Millar. "You've got to be patient."

The Yankees don't know what to make of this. They think the Red Sox may be stealing signs. They are trying to be patient with the big righthander, but he keeps getting manhandled by the Red Sox. Sunday at Fenway he couldn't stick around long enough to pick up a win even when his teammates staked him to a 7-1 lead. He could be New York's biggest bust since Hideki Irabu.

Millar and Mark Bellhorn hit back-to-back homers off Contreras in the fourth. Pokey Reese followed with a single and stole second (Boston's third easy steal off Contreras). Then Damon walked and the Yankees had seen enough. But the bullpen could not stop the bleeding.

By the sixth it was raining. Then it was raining boos on the handsome head of Rodriguez. When Bubba Crosby fell down in center in pursuit of a routine fly ball that became a two-run double, Sox fans had to wonder how much better it could get.

"We're playing good baseball," said Millar. "We're rolling right now."

Bill Mueller, who put the game away with a three-run homer in the fourth, said, "We play them 19 times so we've got a long way to go. That's the way I look at it. What we did tonight is over with."

The first game in New York was nothing like last Friday at Fenway. There was no pregame playoff atmosphere at Yankee Stadium. No network TV, no armada of satellite trucks outside the ballpark, no red, white, and blue bunting on the rails of the field boxes. The Sox did not send a single member of upper management. No Theo. No Trio. No Steinbrenner. Not even a Ben Affleck sighting. The series is not the talk of the tabloids.

The pregame pomp was tepid compared with the hysteria that gripped the Hub prior to the four-game set at Fenway last weekend. This was just baseball without the neon frame. And it was pretty good baseball for Derek Lowe and the Red Sox.

The Yankees on the other hand, were pathetic. One can only wonder how long Steinbrenner will remain silent and absent in the face of such disgrace. Things were supposed to be different when the Yankees came back to New York, but they were only worse. No one was talking about last October when the Red Sox took a 10-0 lead in the seventh. The Sox have the Yankees on the run and there's no Grady Little to stop them this time.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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