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We've lost talk of a collapse

NEW YORK -- Take a deep breath. Pay no attention to the man in the Yankee owner's box. Go to the fridge and look at that photograph of you standing next to the World Series trophy (certainly every New Englander has one of those by now). Remind yourself . . . It's different now.

The Red Sox can deliver a stinkbomb here in September, as they did in last night's 8-4 loss (four errors), but there's still no talk of choke or collapse. None of the Yankees fans come to the Bronx hoisting Babe Ruth posters or signs with references to 1918. Those Bucky-Boone T-shirts are gone. There's a new world (Series) order and the Red Sox can walk into Yankee Stadium without carrying tired old baggage of autumns past.

Even on a night when the Sox look like a team of Johnnys from Burger King playing in a slow-pitch softball league, you need to remember that it's now the Yankees who don't want to be reminded of a colossal fall fold. It's the Yankees who are in second place. It's the Yankees who are in disarray, mocked by their media and fans.

The Red Sox put on a particularly ugly display last night, but they still lead the Bronx Bombers by three games in the American League East and there are still a ton of games to be played at Fenway, and there's really nothing to worry about. Right?

''No reason to press ourselves, it's just one game," said David Wells, who was victimized by shoddy defense. ''We've got a great team. We've played great at home. We just haven't played too well on the road [34-36]."

''It was not our best game," admitted manager Terry Francona. ''Sloppy. It happens."

So don't you worry about Manny's slump, Boston's bullpen blues, or Curt Schilling's chances of finally getting a win this afternoon. The Sox are going to be OK. The pressure is on the Yankees this time.

The Sox jumped to a 3-1 lead last night, but the Yankees scored once in each of the first four innings. New York got help in the first when Tony Graffanino made a throw about 20 feet wide of first base after some confusion involving the radical defensive shift for Jason Giambi.

In spectacular fashion, the dreaded Dale Sveum Factor reared its head in the third inning. With Jason Varitek on first and two outs, Kevin Millar hit a ball into the corner in left. In the spirit of Rene Lachemann and Wendell ''Send-'em-in" Kim, Sveum sent Varitek home and the relay throw from Derek Jeter beat Boston's plow horse catcher by 30 feet. Seeing no purpose in sliding, Varitek attempted to knock the ball loose and his hit on Jorge Posada inspired thoughts of Rodney Harrison. In the old days, the play would have provoked a fistfight. Posada held on and the inning was over. Sveum got a lot of TV time the rest of the night and the first hysterical e-mail to this address arrived within minutes.

''We were hoping for a misplay," said Francona. ''If we could bring it back, we'd always do it. That's just the way the game is."

The Sox dissolved in the sixth. The trouble started when Damon made a sloppy error in center and Edgar Renteria followed suit with his 25th misplay of the season (he tried to hold up his relay thrown and spiked the ball into the dirt). Wells didn't make it out of the inning and appeared agitated when he had to give the ball to his manager. He was booed with gusto when he walked off, trailing, 5-3. Chad Bradford came on with the gasoline can and it was 8-3 when the Sox came to bat in the seventh.

''I don't like it," Wells said, when asked about the quick hook. ''You get the out and all of a sudden, you get pulled out . . . I don't know if it's been done, but I wanted to meet him at the line and plead my case."

''We're trying to win the game," said Francona. ''We needed to try to stop it right there. It didn't work out well."

The Sox claimed to be unconcerned about any perceived momentum shift.

''This will be a fun September," said Millar. ''We can play better than we did today. The errors weren't a big deal tonight. We just didn't get the two-out hits, and they did."

''Obviously, we're up against it as far as the division goes," acknowledged Yankees manager Joe Torre before the game. ''But we can't say we need to win all three and then go out and lose the first game."

Sox wonderboy Theo Epstein cautioned, ''It's not appropriate to put too much thought into relative position. Every game is a potential momentum swing at this point."

But the general manager acknowledged what becomes more obvious by the day: These Red Sox feel no pressure and never choke. It's an attitude that carried them to St. Louis in 2004 and continues to push them through the routine rough patches of the 162-game haul.

''It's the team's nature," said Epstein. ''Even when they're not playing well, they really believe in themselves. They're always the loosest team on the field. They think they're good and they look forward to playing the games. It serves us well."

That attitude should help them forget about last night and start fresh today. Remember, these are the new Red Sox. They don't fold in September.

Of course, if they lose today, they'll have to beat Randy Johnson tomorrow to avoid a September sweep. If that happens, it might start to feel like the bad old days.

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

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