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YANKEES KNOCK DOWN RED SOX
A-ROD'S NINTH-INNING HIT PUTS BOSTON IN BIG HOLE

Alex Rodriguez officially earned his pinstripes Friday night as the New York Yankees tormented the Boston Red Sox again.

Rodriguez's RBI single off Fenway Park's Green Monster with one out in the top of the ninth inning scored Gary Sheffield with the winning run to give the Yankees an 8-7 win over the Red Sox.

Rodriguez entered the game batting just .213 (19 for 89) with runners in scoring position -- the lowest average of any Yankee regular. But he made no mistake on a two-ball, two-strike pitch from Boston closer Keith Foulke (2-3), driving it halfway up the wall as Sheffield loped home.

Rodriguez went 3 for 5 in the game, a far cry from his 1-for-17 showing in April in Boston when he was booed vociferously in his first Fenway appearance after the aborted winter trade to Boston from Texas.

"That feels like it was five years ago," Rodriguez said. "Sixty wins later, we're playing a lot better as a team. Right when the game ended, I felt what it meant, that it was the first official big hit to make me a Yankee. That felt pretty good."

The loss was a complete crusher for the Red Sox, who trail New York by 9 1/2 games in the American League East. How hopeless is Boston's situation? The Yankees have never blown more than a six-game lead in their illustrious history.

It was New York's fourth straight win over the Sox after Boston won six of this year's first seven meetings. And it was another of those instant classics that left the Sox and the Fenway faithful in shock.

Boston ace Curt Schilling had a 4-1 lead through four innings and couldn't hold it. Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar had the first three-homer game of his career, including a solo shot off Tom Gordon leading off the eighth that tied the game at 7-7, and the Sox still lost.

Schilling gave up five runs in the sixth to fall behind, 7-4, and was lifted after 5 1/3 innings. He sat head in hands in the dugout after he was relieved and was inconsolable afterward.

"This was a game where the box score tomorrow is going to show Keith Foulke with a loss, but this game falls right on top of me," said a red-eyed Schilling. "I'm the only guy who came up short tonight. That's what makes it on a personal level as hard as it is. . . . For me to trip and fall down in a game like this, it's inexcusable. It's incredibly disappointing."

Millar, author of the "Cowboy Up" slogan that carried the Sox to the brink of the World Series last year, essentially gave a concession speech on the division race.

"It's disappointing because the perfect world would be for us to win the American League East," Millar said. "But the big goal is to make the playoffs and go through those on our way to the World Series. That's what we'll have to do."

Gordon (3-3) struck out Jason Varitek and David Ortiz to end the eighth and strand runners at second and third. That set the Yankees up for the ninth.

Sheffield belted a solo homer in the first for the 399th of his career and was a few feet shy of No. 400 with one out in the ninth. But his towering shot clanked high off the wall for a double, and Rodriguez played wallball five pitches later to bring him home.

"That was a huge base hit," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "If that doesn't go into the bank in Alex's mind about being able to have good at-bats, I don't know what's going to help him."

Now with the lead, the Yankees turned to Mariano Rivera in the ninth, and he needed just nine pitches to dispose of the Sox for his 35th save in 36 chances and 23rd in a row.

Derek Jeter (broken bone in the right hand) and Jason Giambi (intestinal parasite) each returned to the Yankees lineup after missing two games. Jeter went 0 for 5 while Giambi's 0-for-3 night stretched his hitless streak to 21 at-bats.
e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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