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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Nothing rivals this bitter feud

You asked for it. You got it.

Ever-clutch, the Yankees rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the eighth inning at Minnesota last night and finished off the Twins, 6-5, in 11 innings in Game 4 of the American League Division Series to advance to the ALCS against the Red Sox, beginning Tuesday night in the Bronx.

There it is. Almost a full 12 months since He Who Must Not Be Named stuck with Pedro, and Aaron Boone struck a home run for the ages, the Red Sox and Yankees have smashed their way back to the top of the heap in the AL. They have more than a century of hardball history, the two highest payrolls in baseball, and the most animosity in sports. It's Texas-Oklahoma 26 times a year.

Let's face it: Boston-New York is the series America wants. It will be impossible to steer clear of all things Red Sox and Yankees over the next 10 days. It'll be easier avoiding Kerry and Bush. Red Sox-Yankees transcends wins and losses. It's bombastic and biblical. The tonnage of coverage generated by another Boston-New York Trojan War will exceed that of any sports story of this century. The Rivalry is quite simply the greatest team sports story ever told.

Consider this: in the last two years, the teams have played 45 times and the Sox lead, 23-22. How's that for parity?

On the other hand, the Yanks have a slight edge of 26-0 in world championships since Sox owner Harry Frazee sold the greatest player of all time to the Yankees.

Folks in New York are genuinely amused to hear that Boston media outlets and many Sox fans wanted to play the Yankees in the ALCS. It's the ancient "Be careful what you wish for" element. Those who remember Larry Bird's golden days might recall a playoff game in Cleveland in 1985 when Bird stayed back in the team hotel because of a sore elbow. The Cavaliers beat the Celtics and Cleveland fans chanted, "We want Bird!" in the final minutes. At practice before the next game, an enraged Larry said, "They want me, they'll get me with both barrels." And they did. Bird torched the Cavaliers the next night, knocking Cleveland out of the playoffs.

So are you sure you want the Yankees, Sox fans?

Certainly the Yanks appear vulnerable. New York's pitching is mush and the Sox beat the Yankees 11 times in 19 meetings this year. It would certainly enhance any Boston World Series experience if the Sox were to arrive at the Fall Classic at the expense of the Yankees. Especially after last October. And after Babe Ruth. And after Bucky Dent. And after the hideous Alex Rodriguez negotiations of last winter.

But let's remind ourselves that the 2004 Yankees have the highest payroll in the history of baseball. They have 16 players who have been All-Stars. They won that clutch, 13-inning game over the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium July 1, one of the greatest regular-season games ever played. In 30 starts against Pedro Martinez, they have won 19 times, including 17 of 23 since June 2000.

The Yankees, remember, are Pedro's daddy.

Ouch.

The Yankees are also clutch. Remember those New York teams in the late 1970s with all the guys who wanted to bat at the end of the close games? Their names were Jackson, Chambliss, Munson, Piniella, Nettles, and Rivers. You didn't want to face any of them with the game on the line.

This new group is equally fearless. Derek Jeter is the greatest clutch player of his generation. Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada are worthy pinstripe progeny. And now A-Rod looks as if he might be a clutch player, after all. He had huge hits in both Game 2 and Game 4 of the Twins series, and his heads-up stolen base stole Game 4 in extra innings. He's finally making his bones with the perennial champs.

The Yanks were buried last night. They trailed, 5-1, in the eighth. Then they got it done. With a lot of help from their millionaire bench in the person of Ruben Sierra (game-tying three-run homer). Oh, and let's not forget the indomitable Mariano Rivera, the greatest October closer of them all, a man who turns the enemy bat rack into kindling.

Begging to play the Yankees might have been a mistake.

But that's the rule only if you are a practical person. And if you are a Sox fan, you are not a practical person. You are emotional. You wanted the Yankees.

And now you have them. A new chapter in the greatest team sports story ever told.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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