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Rodriguez lets bat do all of the talking

Hostile fans silenced by loud, go-ahead HR

The moment, all bright lights and big tension, was ruined.

Curt Schilling had entered to, essentially, the trumpeting of lovelorn Red Sox fans. He had galloped in, minus the white horse, to steal a win by tamping down the Yankees in a tie game in the top of the ninth inning. Only he met Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez along the way. That didn't quite work to his advantage.

Rodriguez -- hated more than almost any other player by Boston fans -- barely saw the single pitch Schilling threw him, the pitcher's second major league batter since April 23. He barely saw the splitter that he crushed in what he called the biggest home run he has hit this season, one that sent the Yankees to an 8-6 win in the series opener last night at Fenway Park.

''I don't know if I liked it," Rodriguez said. ''I just swung hard in case I hit it. Curt's always tough -- he has a lot of ways of getting you out. I just wanted to hit a ball to the big part of the field and get Sheffield over. And I did."

Yes, he did.

Sheffield had just sent another Schilling offering to the Wall, a double to welcome the reborn closer back to the big leagues. It put a runner in scoring position for Rodriguez, and thrust the Red Sox' verbal punching bag into the role of spoiler. Rodriguez got to be the hero. Schilling did not.

On a night that wasn't exactly what the Red Sox pitcher might have scripted for himself, it turned into almost exactly what Rodriguez might have scripted. It was a modicum of redemption in a place he needed it.

''He's always going to put numbers up because he's so good," Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Rodriguez. ''But what he's done this year, whether it's a single, a sacrifice fly, a stolen base, he's helped us win so many games in so many ways. And tonight was just sort of his signature type of thing because he hit a monster home run."

It was another ''A-Rod for MVP" moment. Another chance for the third baseman to gain back the pride and the fans after a harsh rookie season in New York. He has already had signature appearances against Boston in his short time with the Yankees. Memorable, though not quite dignified. He had a glove shoved in his face. He pawed at Bronson Arroyo and sent a ball skittering away. And last night he launched a shot off savior Schilling to wrest a win away from the Red Sox and pull New York within 1 1/2 games of first in the American League East.

Quite a difference.

''It's a big boost for him," Sheffield said. ''Last year he struggled coming in here and he kind of pressed a little bit. But you can see a more relaxed guy."

Rodriguez had already singled in the first inning, already struck out on a 90-mile-per-hour fastball from Arroyo in the third, already fouled to first in the fifth, and walked in the seventh. He hadn't, despite six Yankee runs, made a direct contribution to the scoring.

He still had time. He still had Schilling.

''He's got to get strike one," Sheffield said. ''It's a different situation when you're starting, as opposed to being a closer. If you get strike one, then he can go to all of his other five pitches. I didn't want him to get to them."

Neither, it seems, did Rodriguez. He took Schilling's first pitch and smoked it. He didn't wait to see what the righthander was offering. He didn't need to.

''I just wanted to get a good pitch," Rodriguez said, ''get a good full swing on it, not really try to chop the ball to second base or first base because a lot of bad things happen then . . . It was an incredible feeling. You've got a Hall of Fame pitcher on the mound and Gary Sheffield with a big double. Just to get the job done there was very satisfying."

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