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RED SOX TORMENT RIVERA; JETER, FRANCONA LOST

Somehow, the Yankees took two of three games from the world champions and the series still was a disaster for New York.

The Yankees were in position to open the season with a sweep of the Red Sox on Wednesday afternoon in Yankee Stadium, leading by a run heading into the ninth inning. It was the same situation Mariano Rivera faced -- and failed in -- the day before.

This time, the Yanks' once-invincible closer -- with a big assist on an error by Alex Rodriguez -- completely imploded, and Derek Jeter wasn't around to save the day. By the final out, the 7-3 loss felt a lot like the last two the Yanks suffered in their ALCS collapse in October.

"It's fine," insisted New York first baseman Tino Martinez, who homered in the fifth inning. "We played a good series. We played good, we played hard. That's just the way it turned out. If we can win every series like that, we'll be in good shape."

Only if there are no long-term ramifications from what happened Wednesday.

Jeter, who took Rivera off the hook Tuesday with a walk-off home run, had to be taken to the hospital after getting struck in the helmet by a Mike Timlin pitch during the Yanks' eighth-inning rally in which they took a 3-2 lead.

"He felt a little ringing in his ears running around the bases," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He felt a little woozy."

According to a team spokesman, a CT scan showed nothing abnormal, and the Yankees captain is expected back for Friday's game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Everyone in the Yankees clubhouse insisted Rivera would be all right despite his back-to-back failures. The Red Sox batted around against him in the ninth inning Wednesday and scored five runs.

He issued a leadoff walk to Bill Mueller before singles by Mark Bellhorn and Johnny Damon loaded the bases.

"Even though I walked Mueller, I made my pitches," Rivera said. "After that, I was getting groundballs that were going through the holes. There's nothing you can do against that. I'm fine."

A-Rod tried to assume the blame for botching a Manny Ramirez grounder with one out and the bases loaded.

"It was a royal screw-up by me," Rodriguez said. "We would have had three out of three if I make that play."

A-Rod bobbled the ball twice as Mueller scored the tying run.

David Ortiz followed with a weak grounder to Rivera's left that was too slow for him to throw home, so he reluctantly flipped it to first for the second out as Bellhorn scored the go-ahead run.

After a four-pitch walk to David McCarty, Edgar Renteria laced a single into left field to plate two more runs. A walk to Doug Mirabelli ended Rivera's afternoon.

The Red Sox were without manager Terry Francona, who was taken to a hospital in the morning with tightness in his chest.

He returned to Boston while his team headed for Toronto for a series against the Blue Jays. It's uncertain when the will return.

"His blood pressure returned to normal since the ninth inning," Red Sox spokesman Glenn Geffner said. The team would not specify what Francona was tested for or any results.

"Tito has meant so much to this whole team," Damon said. "He's the guy that would go to battle for you."