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Game 1 knockout

It's a tie for first as Red Sox Nation cheers opener of epic duel

A member of the grounds crew changes the standings on the Green Monster to reflect last night's game. The Sox and the Yankees are tied for first place in the AL East. (Jim Davis / Globe Staff)    <a href='' onclick='openWindow('','','width=775,height=585,resizable=yes,scrollbars=yes,toolbar=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no'); return false;'>Game photos    <a href='' onclick='openWindow('','fridayscene','width=775,height=585,resizable=yes,scrollbars=yes,toolbar=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no'); return false;'>Fenway scene    <a href=''>Audio slideshow
A member of the grounds crew changes the standings on the Green Monster to reflect last night's game. The Sox and the Yankees are tied for first place in the AL East. (Jim Davis / Globe Staff)   Photo Gallery Game photos   Photo Gallery Fenway scene   Audio Audio slideshow

It is bigger than any Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, or Celtics-Lakers revival. Tickets are fetching four figures and the series has lured a media throng not seen in the Hub since the Democratic National Convention. Come to think of it, Red Sox-Yankees inspires passion and anger on a par with Red States vs. Blue States.

On a postcard-perfect evening at the Fens, the Red Sox won Round 1 of the Showdown of the Century, 5-3, last night to pull into a first-place tie in the American League East with their lifelong nemeses. Portly portsider David Wells (15 wins, same as a guy named Pedro) held the Bronx Bombers to three runs in seven innings and the beleaguered Boston bullpen pitched brilliantly in the final two frames.

Two games remain, starting today when Tim Wakefield takes the mound, while Cooperstown-bound Randy Johnson starts for the Yankees. They hooked up in an epic, 1-0 duel (won by Johnson) at Yankee Stadium three weeks ago, and at 1:20 this afternoon New England will be a place where the streets have no cars.

''Two more to go," said Sox chairman Tom Werner as he exited the ballpark after the win.

Manager Terry Francona added, ''We're dead even. It's exciting, but it's not like we can go live it up and pound our chests. We've got to come back and beat maybe the best pitcher in the league."

The Sox dramatically improved their postseason chances last night. A sweep of these final two games will give them the East title for the first time since 1995. A split puts them in a one-game playoff at New York Monday. If the Sox lose today and tomorrow, they still have a shot at a wild-card berth depending on what happens to the Cleveland Indians, who lost, 3-2, last night to the Chicago White Sox in 13 innings.

There was no shortage of hype and hysteria as the rivals went through their pregame routines. Sox MVP-designee David Ortiz cranked up the music in the Boston clubhouse, while Wells put on his headphones and sat, Buddha-like, gazing at the mass of humanity wielding microphones and notepads. All the while, Sox catcher/captain Jason Varitek sat in front of his stall, wearing a headset and studying charts of the Yankee hitters. After 68 meetings in three years, it hardly seemed necessary. Perhaps the catcher was reading Mad magazine and just dodging the press.

Pregame movie fare? The Yankees had the rousing ''Gladiator" playing on their clubhouse TV. The Sox went with ''Mystic River," a pass-the-Prozac presentation.

When Francona was asked about the potential for bizarre moments over the weekend, he answered, ''The games will play themselves out. I don't need to give the series any advance hype. I'm sure that will happen on its own . . . This is pretty exciting, trying to be a little bit better than somebody else at what you love doing."

Trot Nixon added, ''This is just great for the fans of baseball, for fans all around the country."

Including Robert Redford, making his first visit to Fenway Park. You know it's got to be big when ''The Natural" is in the house. Too bad Roy Hobbs couldn't play right field for the Red Sox.

Wells got himself into a big jam in the first inning, loading the bases on two walks and a hit batsman. Hideki Matsui gave the Bombers a 1-0 lead with a single to center, but Boomer got out of the jam without further damage.

''He was just missing with his curveball a little bit," said Varitek.

In the bottom of the inning the Sox tied the score in the exact manner they'd won Thursday night. Johnny Damon reached on a walk, stole second, and scored on a single up the middle by Ortiz. It was one of only four Sox hits in the game and produced RBI No. 147 for Boston's new cult hero.

Varitek staked Wells to a 2-1 lead with a laser shot into the Monster Seats in left-center on the first pitch of the bottom of the second. Wells, working quickly and throwing strikes, made the 2-1 lead stand up into the middle innings. He allowed only two hits -- both singles by Matsui -- in the first five innings. As the evening lengthened, Sox fans entertained the thought to come the park today with the teams tied at 94-66 with two games to play.

Wells was a fortunate son in the sixth. Jason Giambi led off with a single to right and somehow failed to score when Matsui doubled all the way to the bullpen wall with one out. Giambi was trotting into third when he first noticed coach Luis Sojo waving him home. Too late. The big lug stayed anchored at third as Jorge Posada grounded to the left side and Ruben Sierra flied to center.

The Yankees fell apart in the bottom of the sixth. Damon led off with a single to right and stole second again. With one out and first base empty, the Yankees intentionally walked Ortiz, but Ramirez singled to left to load the bases. All three runners wound up scoring. Damon came home when Nixon walked, Ortiz scored on an error by Giambi, and Manny crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly by John Olerud.

Proud Yankee captain Derek Jeter closed the gap with a two-run homer into the Red Sox bullpen in the seventh. Francona went to his bullpen in the eighth, summoning Chad Bradford, Mike Myers, and Mike Timlin to pitch the 1-2-3 eighth. After ''Sweet Caroline," Timlin retired the Yankees in the ninth. He struck out three of the five batters he faced.


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