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CONTRERAS RETURNS, LOSES TO RED SOX

Jose Contreras' face changed dramatically in a few short hours.

The New York Yankees' relief pitcher arrived from a stint in the minor leagues on Tuesday with a handful of confidence, a bright smile, and a huge sense of relief.

Before Tuesday's game against Boston, Contreras declared himself a new man. No more control problems, he announced. No more problems trying to live up to heightened expectations.

But by the end of the night, Contreras wore the same puzzled expression that was so familiar during the first month of the season. Contreras squandered a seventh-inning lead in the Yankees' 10-7 loss to the Red Sox, again raising questions whether the pitcher is fit for a relief role.

"It's different," said Contreras. "I'm going to try. I spent 11 years (in Cuba) as a starter. It's not going to be easy."

The Yankees seemed to be thriving before Contreras' flameout. They lucked out when Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez declared himself unable to pitch on Tuesday because of a mild muscle strain. The Yankees held leads of 2-0, 3-2, and 6-4. But Contreras, in his second inning of relief, couldn't hold the lead. Contreras walked three and allowed five runs in the seventh inning to doom the Yankees.

Torre, though, said he was happy with Contreras' performance.

"He came in from the bullpen and did a heck of a job," said Torre. "I thought he was the biggest plus of the night. His command was much better. His stuff was better. He seemed more confident letting the ball go."

Before the game, Torre said he didn't want to put Contreras in a difficult spot in his first few outings. But after starter Jeff Weaver pitched five ineffective innings, Torre was forced to bring in Contreras, who was recalled from the Yankees' Class AAA affiliate Columbus on Tuesday.

"We just needed to do it," said Torre. "That's his spot."

Contreras helped quell a Weaver jam in the sixth by inducing a double play from Boston catcher Jason Varitek and a strikeout from center fielder Johnny Damon.

Then Torre sent out Contreras for that fateful seventh.

"I had visions of him taking us right to Mo (Yankees closer Mariano Rivera)," said Torre. "I was confident leaving him out there that (second) inning."

Todd Walker started the seventh against Contreras with one of Boston's eight walks. Nomar Garciaparra doubled him to third, Manny Ramirez was walked intentionally, and David Ortiz doubled in two runs to give Boston a 7-6 lead.

Trot Nixon's sacrifice fly made it 8-6 before Bill Mueller walked. Sterling Hitchcock replaced Contreras and allowed a sacrifice fly by Kevin Millar and an RBI single by Johnny Damon.

The longtime rivals have split their first two meetings of the season the past two days, leaving them tied for first in the AL East. Yankees ace and former Red Sox star Roger Clemens goes for his 299th victory tonight at Fenway Park.

Garciaparra extended his hitting streak to 21 games, most in the majors this year.

Tempers flare in Twins-A's game

OAKLAND -- There are plenty of hard feelings left over from last year's playoff series between the Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics.

The benches cleared twice in a testy rematch Tuesday night, with host Oakland winning 4-1 behind Tim Hudson's eight sharp innings.

"It's two teams that had some emotional, intense games," Athletics first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. "It builds a bit of a rivalry, and when people get hit, things get read into it. I don't think it was anything intentional."

Both teams rushed the field in the fifth inning after Minnesota starter Rick Reed (2-5) hit Ramon Hernandez with a pitch, and the benches cleared again in the sixth when Hudson hit Bobby Kielty.

"It was retaliation," Kielty claimed. "It's part of the game, really."

No punches were thrown and nobody was ejected.

Minnesota seems to have an interest in rough play: The Twins' bench has cleared four times in the last four weeks.

For the A's, the anger stems from the division series last October, when Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski offended them during Minnesota's clinching Game Five victory.

Last weekend, Terrence Long and Hudson expressed their team's dislike for Pierzynski. The A's claim Pierzynski showed them up when he hit an important homer in Game Five.

Around the horn

Rookie Brandon Phillips hit a three-run homer off Matt Roney (0-1) with one out in the ninth inning as the Indians beat the Tigers, 6-4. . . . Bartolo Colon cooled off Toronto's bats and the White Sox ended a four-game skid with a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays. Colon (5-3) won his third straight start, allowing nine hits in his third complete game this season. . . . Randy Winn's two-run homer capped a four-run bottom of the eighth as the Mariners defeated the Royals, 7-4. Raul Ibanez hit a pair of home runs for Kansas City. . . . Troy Glaus homered twice, and Scott Spiezio tripled and scored the winning run on shortstop Deivi Cruz's throwing error in the ninth inning as the Angels rallied for a 7-6 victory over the Orioles. . . . Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer as the Rangers beat the Devil Rays, 5-2.

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