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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Matsui: Monster mashed

Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui holds his wrist after breaking it while attempting to make a sliding catch in the first inning. He will have surgery today.
Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui holds his wrist after breaking it while attempting to make a sliding catch in the first inning. He will have surgery today. (Reuters Photo)

All in all, a pretty good week for the Red Sox here in the Apple. Last night's 5-3 victory gave them two out of three in the Bronx and the Sox flew home in sole possession of first place in the American League East.

They also witnessed a play that could significantly tip the balance of power in the division. Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui fractured his left wrist in the first inning last night and will be lost to the Pinstripes for several months, possibly for the rest of the year.

''It's crushing," said Johnny Damon, who is only 1 for 16 in four games against the Red Sox. ''We've lost both of our corner outfielders [Gary Sheffield is on the disabled list with a bruised hand] and the production of those guys can't be replaced."

''It's shocking," added veteran Bernie Williams. ''He's so steady, you take him for granted, but we've got to face the reality now that we're not going to have him."

Ever seen the Joe Theismann video? Theismann's football career ended when his leg snapped as he was sacked by Lawrence Taylor on ''Monday Night Football" in 1985. Footage of the moment is as graphic as some of the stuff produced by Quentin Tarantino.

We saw the baseball equivalent when Matsui charged in from left field on a shallow pop by Mark Loretta. Matsui extended his gloved left hand as he hit the turf in an effort to make the catch. He did not make the catch and his left arm snapped back in grotesque fashion.

Think this man is tough? Matsui had played 518 consecutive major league games (a record for the start of a career) since joining the Yankees in 2003. Going back to his days in Japan, he played in 1,768 consecutive games. And after breaking his wrist in this painful fashion, he barely grimaced. He looked like a cowboy in one of those old movies -- taking a shot of whiskey to dull the pain while they cut a bullet out of his leg after a gunfight.

''I could see the swelling," said Damon. ''I knew it was bad."

Yankees trainer Gene Monahan rushed to the scene and walked off the field with Matsui, holding the outfielder's limp arm. It looked like Monahan was holding a dead fish. Had this happened to a Patriots player during a Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the team would have announced the player had the wind knocked out of him and might return for the second half. But there was no hiding the severity of Matsui's injury. He will undergo surgery today and he might never be the same player.

It was quite a series for the ancient rivals. Things got off to a rockin' start when the New York Post challenged Yankees pitchers to put David Ortiz on his rear. In Game 1, the Sox routed Randy Johnson and the Yankees played hacky sack with the baseball. The result was a 14-3 Sox blowout and Boss Steinbrenner ripped Alex Rodriguez (two errors) after the game. Rodriguez responded in Game 2, crushing a cookie from Curt Schilling to put New York into the lead in the fifth inning. It was one of three homers Schilling surrendered in the 7-3 Sox' loss.

Last night, the inimitable Schilling managed to make himself the center of attention again by leaving the ballpark in full uniform for a trip to a local medical facility. Just like Schilling to fly under the radar like that. The Gotham paparazzi covered Schilling's quick errand, but the Sox did not disclose the nature of his malady.

In Game 3, the Red Sox hit the ball hard all night, left a whopping 15 on base, but pushed three runs across the plate in the final three innings and rode on the back of Mr. Jonathan Papelbon (13th save in 13 opportunities) to their third victory in four games against the Yankees this season. In 75 games (including playoffs) since the start of the 2003 season, the Sox lead, 39-36, and also lead in World Series victories, 1-0.

''We probably do know more about them than any other team," acknowledged Sox manager Terry Francona. ''They know us. We know them. We've just got to play better."

The Red Sox were able to get a jump last year when the Yankees started 11-19. Now they have a chance to build an early-season lead while the Yankees are playing without Matsui and Sheffield.

''We have to take it day by day," said the ever-measured Yankees skipper, Joe Torre. ''This is going to be a while. Everybody is going to have to do something extra. We're going to be relying on other ways to win games."

It just got much tougher for New York. Bubba Crosby and Melky Cabrera are going to be playing in place of Sheffield and Matsui. This is a good time for the Red Sox to put some distance between themselves and their rivals.

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

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