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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

No quit in colorful bunch

Curt Schilling tries to pull himself together in the fifth inning with two runners on. Curt Schilling tries to pull himself together in the fifth inning with two runners on. (MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF)

Fenway was bulging with 36,786 frothing fans and the game was carried on five networks as folks on two continents sat transfixed for the renewal of baseball's epic rivalry.

It was the first of 18 meetings between the Yankees and Red Sox, and if the next 17 are anything like this one, there'll be not an ounce of strength or energy left by the time we get to October.

Trailing, 6-2, in the bottom of the eighth inning last night, the Red Sox rallied for five runs -- routing Mariano Rivera in the process -- and took the first game of the latest, greatest April series in hardball history, 7-6.

"We see him more than anybody," Sox manager Terry Francona said of the great Rivera, one of several future Hall of Famers on display this weekend. "The only other thing to do is quit and go home, and we're not gonna do that. We didn't quit playing, thankfully."

They certainly did not quit and go home. And it would have been easy to put this one in the "L" column and rely on Josh Beckett vs. Jeff Karstens today and Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Chase Wright tomorrow. The Sox did not have Jonathan Papelbon available. They'd watched the scalding Alex Rodriguez torch them for two homers, four RBIs, and a double. They'd succumbed to the soft serves of Andy Pettitte. Jason Varitek and Coco Crisp were still living significantly south of the Mendoza Line.

They were going to lose.

And then there was all this . . . magic. On a night when the Red Sox honored the greatest team ever to represent this region (the 1957-86 Celtics), the Red Sox demonstrated some of the effort, teamwork, grit, and clutch play that made the Green famous.

"You know what?" said Curt Schilling. "This was a win and you win championships with a full roster of players . . . every guy on your roster has to help you win a ballgame."

"I enjoyed it," owner John W. Henry said in the clubhouse after lefthander Hideki Okajima nailed down the save. "I was as nervous in that game as I can ever remember. And I wanted so badly for Okajima-san to come out and get a save like that. That was fun."

There were ghosts of Yankees past rattling around the yard in the first eight innings. Schilling, who needs an editor more than he needs a pitching coach, coughed up a couple of gopher balls to Rodriguez (12 homers and 30 RBIs already, folks) and Boston hitters weren't able to do much with Pettitte, who last started a game against the Red Sox during the (gulp) 2003 American League Championship Series.

The Sox had lost seven consecutive Fenway games to the Yankees, including the fatal five-game set here last August. That fabled flop triggered the most expensive offseason in franchise history and put the Sox in position to overtake the nemesis from New York.

It wasn't looking good when Crisp failed to glove A-Rod's second homer in the fifth, but the effort put forth by the beleaguered center fielder served notice that the Sox were not going to quit against the Yankees this time. Crisp almost broke his neck on the play, hitting the bullpen wall while backpedaling blindly and flopping into the Sox' pen as the ball landed behind him.

The gods smiled on the Sox after that.

The key hits in Boston's five-run eighth were all struck off Rivera. After the Sox cut the deficit to 6-3, Varitek (three badly needed hits) touched Rivera for an RBI single, then Crisp dumped a two-run, tying triple to right.

Coco Crisp. The man we love to boo.

"Coco got two hits after he crashed into that wall," said Henry, a man who believes in the baseball gods.

Alex Cora was next. Old folks remember what Jerry Adair did for the 1967 Red Sox. Cora is that kind of contributor and, naturally, he poked a winning single over the drawn-in infield.

Then came the ninth when the other Japanese pitcher came in to save the game. He had to face A-Rod with a runner aboard and one out. Francona considered going to the mound and even asked the dugout translator to prepare some remarks.

"We had Masai [assistant trainer Masai Takahashi] write some things down on a card," said Francona. "Like, 'This guy is a pretty good hitter.' "

They elected not to deliver the message and Okajima got A-Rod on a soft liner to second, then fanned Kevin Thompson to end the game.

"You saw the excitement on everyone's faces," said Francona.

Yes, we did.

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

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