BOSTON Thought baseball's best rivalry couldn't get more intense? Think again.
The Red Sox and Yankees resume their feud Friday, sure to remember the nastiness and drama of last year's AL championship series and the sniping over Alex Rodriguez in the offseason.
Of course, Boston and New York didn't need more reasons to hate each other in a battle that began even before the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.
Well, they got 'em, anyway.
''It's the greatest rivalry in sports,'' Boston's Kevin Millar said. ''With the whole A-Rod thing, it's going to be unbelievable. It's an exciting time. You've got two bulldog teams going at each other.''
The Red Sox and Yankees insist their focus will be on trying to win, not the bad blood between them. Still, the fans at Fenway, some of whom will be in new seats on the right-field roof, will make it clear this is no ordinary four-game series.
''I'm not expecting too many cheers,'' said Rodriguez, who donned pinstripes rather than red socks when the Yankees obtained him from Texas after Boston failed to get him.
The series begins exactly six months after their last dramatic meeting a Yankees victory in Game 7 of the AL championship series. Pedro Martinez blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium and Aaron Boone gave New York a 6-5 win with a homer in the 11th inning off Tim Wakefield.
Boston was five outs from clinching the series when manager Grady Little made a much-criticized decision to stick with Martinez. It backfired, and Little lost his job to Terry Francona.
Wakefield will be back on the mound, throwing the first pitch of Friday's game. Martinez will not pitch in the series.
Boone is probably out for the season, sidelined with a knee injury that created an opening at third base. The Yankees filled that with Rodriguez, considered baseball's best all-around player.
New York has won 26 World Series since Boston won its last in 1918.
As if to give the team an additional boost before the game, Boston will unveil a statue of the most beloved Red Sox of all, Ted Williams.
''Hopefully, we can pick it up a notch, show them who the best team is,'' Boston's Johnny Damon said. ''I'm convinced we are.''
Both teams added key players. The Red Sox got Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. Besides Rodriguez, the Yankees picked up Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez, who pitches the opener.
With Seattle and Texas, Rodriguez never had the chance to play in such a rivalry.
''He's asked questions,'' Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said, ''but you can only say so much. You can only explain so much. Until you experience it firsthand, you have no idea.''
The signing of Rodriguez prompted Red Sox owner John Henry to call for a salary cap. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner fired back, calling Henry a whiner.
The teams have baseball's highest payrolls, the Yankees at $183 million and the Red Sox at $125 million.
Seven of this year's 19 regular-season meetings are in April with Boston's Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon on the disabled list. Against the Red Sox last year, the Yankees were 10-9 in the regular season.
''I don't think you can surpass last year's enthusiasm,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. ''Maybe I'm underplaying it a bit. It's too early to let yourself get sky high.''
The intensity soared in Game 3 of the ALCS when Martinez pushed Don Zimmer to the ground when the 72-year-old New York bench coach charged him. Later in the game, two Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson and outfielder Karim Garcia fought with a bullpen attendant. Charges against all three are pending.
Brown, obtained from Los Angeles, pitched in Fenway for Texas.
''Boston is a pretty good town to go into,'' he said. ''You get to watch everybody else go crazy about it and then try to focus on your job.''
That, after all the curses from the fans and chatter about the Curse of the Bambino, is what makes the rivalry unique.
''Jeter, he loves it. He says that series is like none other,'' Rodriguez said. ''It's April and it's a four-game series and we want to set the tone. It's Boston and New York.''
Although rainouts against Baltimore on Tuesday and Wednesday forced Francona to juggle his rotation, Martinez was kept in his spot against the Orioles on Thursday.
Schilling was held back a day until Saturday when he'll face Mike Mussina in a rematch of Game 1 of the 2001 World Series in which Schilling allowed three hits in seven innings in Arizona's 9-1 win.
On Sunday, Derek Lowe faces Jose Contreras, and on Monday it will be Bronson Arroyo against Brown.
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