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Sox hoping rivalry brings about revival

Damon:Trip to NY will boost intensity

NEW YORK -- Rookie third baseman Kevin Youkilis stood in the middle of the Boston clubhouse Sunday, being asked about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. He's never experienced it, called up from Pawtucket well after the Sox won six of seven games against the Yankees in April.

He's only heard the stories from teammates and coaches. At one point he looked down and seemed startled to realize he was wearing a red "Uncivil War" T-shirt, promoting the the series without even realizing it.

"I know it'll be pretty crazy," Youkilis said of the three games, which begin tonight at Yankee Stadium. "It was crazy this weekend with Philly, but I know in New York I've heard it's wild. Usually the whole three games, nonstop yelling and mayhem and [it's] loud. Center field bleacher seats there's a lot of stuff going on. It drives up your adrenaline as a player."

Youkilis already has found out about the fans in the major leagues. While most Sox supporters yell "Youk! Youk!" when he's at the plate, he heard "Kevin Useless" from one person near the third-base dugout Sunday. He'll hear worse tonight if he's in the lineup.

Veteran Johnny Damon understands the hoopla surrounding the series, but he also is aware of the urgency of the games.

The Red Sox are six games behind the Yankees in the loss column in the American League East, and if they don't win at least two out of three, they could become a footnote in the race for the division title. And while Sunday's 12-3 win over the Phillies, which gave them the rubber game of the series, helped the confidence of this underachieving team, the Sox know the Yankees are far different than the club that could manage only one win in seven games vs. Boston in April.

"Last year, we were swinging the bat at a record pace, and now one day we look great and one day we look bad," said Damon. "I can't wait to get in there [Yankee Stadium]. We played very well the last time we played them. The intensity was definitely up at that point of the season and that's what this team needs now. We need an intensity boost. Hopefully that will get us going in the right direction."

While some have accused the Sox of looking lethargic, a packed Yankee Stadium could change that in a hurry. Damon knows it's important for the hitters to set the tone, so the pitchers can relax somewhat against a potent lineup.

"We're looking for big hits," Damon said. "When you get the big hits the intensity comes back. We didn't expect to be in this position [5 1/2 games back] at this time of the year, but what we also have to look at is the big picture and getting into the playoffs.

"We're actually looking really good. We know that in the American League West, those guys are going to beat up on each other. We know that the AL East is tough, too, especially if Tampa Bay keeps it up. We need to overcome that, though, by just taking care of ourselves. We need to stay positive and realize that we really are in good shape and we're just about ready to get healthy."

The Sox chartered a train to New York yesterday afternoon and were in midtown Manhattan by early evening. On the ride down, there was some serious talk about playing loose in the series.

"We know how important the series is," said Damon. "Obviously, the last time we played them they weren't hitting. [Derek] Jeter wasn't hitting. A-Rod wasn't hitting. We knew when those guys got going they were going to be a much better team. They're definitely better now.

"Maybe hearing the fans screaming a little more, we're going down there to hear them boo us, hopefully that gets us going," added Damon. "We need a nice kick in the butt. We've been getting blown out in way too many games. Last year it seemed we were in every game. This team is capable of a sweep. Why don't we do that and make it easier on ourselves?"

The Sox might be facing the cream of the Yankees' staff tonight in Javier Vazquez, but they ripped Vazquez the last time they faced him. They will avoid Mike Mussina, and Jose Contreras, who threw one fastball 101 miles per hour Sunday afternoon. And 39-year-old Kevin Brown, coming back from a back injury, will be skipped Thursday night. Instead, the Sox will face rookie lefthander Brad Halsey.

"We think we match up very well against them, so they need to play well against us," Damon said. "We're going to have to play good to beat them. We know how good we are and we do show signs of it. I've had a few bad days of late. It seems that when me and [Mark] Bellhorn get it together at the top of the order, it seems we do a lot better. We'll figure it out. We'll stop bunting the ball in the air and start hitting line drives."

The Sox outscored the Yankees, 35-19, in the previous seven games. They outhit them, 63-48, and had a .258 average to the Yankees' .199. Manny Ramirez stroked four homers and had eight RBIs. Bill Mueller, currently on a rehab assignment, hit .435 with two homers and six RBIs. Boston starters made five quality starts and the team ERA was 2.45.

The series could come down to the bullpens. Both are among the best in the game, but the Yankees' pen, with Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, and Mariano Rivera has helped them recover from their slow start.

"That's why we need to get on the board early," Damon said. "With our lineup, once we get into the opposing bullpen, we can win games like that. The Yankees are tough out there. We need to get some early runs off their starters and then rely on clutch hitting in the late innings and our own pitching to get us through. "Our pitchers have been carrying us all year. It's time for our bats to get going on the road. We're not even .500 [17-18] on the road, and we've got to change that in a hurry, especially against this team." 

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