No spring break for Yanks, Red Sox

First exhibition meeting draws sellout crowd as heated rivalry carries over


March 08, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. - There were fans lined up outside City of Palms Park at 10 p.m. on Saturday, which is either a sad testament to the nightlife in this Gulf resort town or an amazing statement about the bitter rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

When was the last time that anyone spent the night on the sidewalk for the last few tickets to an exhibition baseball game? Maybe never.

They came yesterday to see what the Red Sox have been lightheartedly describing as "Game 8" - the continuation of last year's overtime American League Championship Series - and they came to see superstar third baseman Alex Rodriguez in the wrong uniform.

"It just shows you the passion that there is between New York and Boston," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez got to experience that passion firsthand when he walked to the plate in the first inning to a loud chorus of boos from the predominantly pro-Boston sellout crowd of 7,304.

Obviously, it didn't matter he offered to take a multi-million dollar pay cut to join the Red Sox in December, only to have the deal for outfielder Manny Ramirez vetoed by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Regardless of his original intentions, his new affiliation was enough to justify full traitor treatment from Red Sox Nation.

There were several anti-Rodriguez posters in the stands to go with the usual anti-Yankees venom. But there also were plenty of vacationing New Yorkers to celebrate the four home runs that carried the Yankees to an 11-7 victory.

Rodriguez could have skipped this game. He wasn't on the original travel roster, but manager Joe Torre added his name to the list on Thursday and turned yesterday's game into a standing room only event. Though it was cast as a managerial decision, it was clear A-Rod did not want it to look like he was ducking the Red Sox after the unusual series of events that put him in the Bronx instead of Boston.

"That's never been my approach," Rodriguez said. "I'm proud of where I am, proud of my actions in the past and I like where I'm going. I was hoping to go to a winning franchise with a winning tradition. Obviously, I'm very excited."

The Red Sox still are picking up the pieces of the aborted trade, which put marquee shortstop Nomar Garciaparra temporarily on the trading block and left him with some bruised feelings. Garciaparra was all smiles yesterday, however, giving both Rodriguez and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter a hug before the game.

There was plenty of action between the white lines, too. Yankees first baseman Tony Clark homered from both sides of the plate during the middle innings, and the Yankees also got homers from Jeter and Ruben Sierra on the way to their third victory in four exhibition games. Rodriguez had one hit in two at-bats.

Maybe there was something slightly absurd about treating a preseason game like it was a postseason showdown, but who could complain after weeks of tawdry steroid revelations? The anticipation was so great that the stadium concessionaire had time to commission a limited edition lapel pin to commemorate the spring showdown.

"I think that's emblematic of how magnified everything has become," said Red Sox president Larry Lucchino. "Pins used to be reserved for World Series games. Now, we've got pins for a Yankees-Red Sox game on March 7."

Torre, who has engineered the revival of the long-running Yankees dynasty, has seen a lot in nearly a half century in the game, but he had to marvel at the buildup.

"I was saying to Yogi [Berra] and Mel [Stottlemyre] on the bus, `Remember the days when you went to play a spring training game and nobody cared?' " Torre said. "It's more than a sport. It's more than baseball. It's all about what people want to see."

The Red Sox seemed slightly bemused by all the attention paid to their third exhibition game against a major league opponent, but they had no trouble getting into the spirit of it, both in the clubhouse and on the field.

"Boston vs. New York ... it's different than anything else," said new Red Sox starting pitcher Curt Schilling. "I've only been here for three weeks, and I already know that."

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