Sat, Jul 24, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Boston about to host the NY Yankees

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL The oldest rivalry in the game will be on display this weekend, but the Red Sox should keep in mind that Tampa Bay isn't far behind

AP , BOSTONAP, NEW YORKAP, CHICAGO

Starting pitcher David Wells of the Padres throws against the Giants during the sixth inning in San Francisco, Thrusday. The San Diago won the game 9-4.

PHOTO: REUTERS

The Boston Red Sox can't afford to obsess about the New York Yankees coming to town this weekend. They have bigger problems to worry about now.

The third-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays are seven games behind -- closer to the Red Sox than their 8 1/2-game deficit with the Yankees. And Boston is in a tight American League wild-card race with the Oakland Athletics and the Chicago White Sox.

"The front office put together a real good ballclub," outfielder Johnny Damon said after Boston lost to Baltimore 8-3 Thursday in the opener of a day-night doubleheader. "We need to find that team real soon before it's gone,"

The Red Sox won the night game, 4-0.

"There's still a number of games for us," Damon said. "They're coming in for three. It's a good time for us to start. We can't wait much longer."

Things in Boston are a lot different than the last time the Yankees visited.

Derek Jeter was slumping, Alex Rodriguez was trying to get acclimated to New York and the Red Sox won six of their first seven games against the Yankees this season.

But soon after a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, Boston began a prolonged stretch of .500 ball that put them far behind the Yankees.

"We're still waiting for that explosion that we know we have in us, the capability to run off 18 of 22," outfielder Gabe Kapler said. "I'm not worried. I don't think anyone in here is worried. But we would like to see something happen rather quickly."

Boston is 37-37 since opening the season 15-6. Asked if he feared that his players would begin to accept that they are part of a .500 team, manager Terry Francona said, ``I don't think this city would ever allow us to accept that.

"I don't think we would, either. No," he said, "that's not a possibility."

The Yankees have problems of their own. With Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown still sidelined, the Yankees were planning to pitch Jon Lieber, Tanyon Sturtze and Jose Contreras in Boston against Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo and Derek Lowe.

Although Jeter is hitting again, he broke his hand when he was hit by a pitch on Tuesday. Following the Yankees' 1-0 win over Toronto, manager Joe Torre said Jeter was unlikely to play Friday night.

"Hopefully, Jeter will be ready in a couple of days," Torre said.

Rodriguez's average has dropped from .307 to .274 since June 13, Jason Giambi is sidelined while recovering from an intestinal parasite, Jorge Posada is in a power drought and Bernie Williams has four hits in his last 47 at-bats.

But they also have a huge cushion in the division, and plenty of time to get better for the playoffs.

"We've got 70 games left. You can't ever look at it like, `Well, we have a lead, so we can take it easy,'" Jeter said. "We can, obviously, make it a little harder for them."

The Yankees have been doing that for more than 80 years, with several more chapters added to their storied rivalry last year.

First, Aaron Boone homered in the 11th inning of the seventh game of the AL championship series to eliminate the Red Sox, who had been five outs from the World Series.

Then, in the offseason, Boston pursued Rodriguez but ultimately passed at the cost of acquiring the reigning AL MVP from the Texas Rangers. But when Boone went down with an injury, the Yankees grabbed A-Rod and put him at third base. He struggled for a few weeks before pulling his average above .300; his 24 homers puts him among the league leaders.

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