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A-ROD AT CENTER OF LATEST BRAWL

Alex Rodriguez was home in suburban Miami watching last year's disagreement between the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League Championship Series unfold on his television screen. Now he knows what one is like firsthand.

Rodriguez was in the middle of the action Saturday as the Yankees and Red Sox added another memorable brawl to their fierce rivalry.

"I remember seeing the energy jumping right through the (TV) screen last year," Rodriguez said after Boston's 11-10 win Saturday in Fenway Park. "It's an indication of the fire and intensity of the rivalry."

Things boiled over Saturday after Rodriguez was hit by Boston's Bronson Arroyo. The Yankees third baseman then confronted Boston catcher Jason Varitek on the first-base line and the situation quickly got ugly.

"He was yelling a few things at Bronson, and I told him in choice words to get to first base," Varitek said. "Between him yelling at Bronson and us yelling at each other, things just happened. You're talking about one of the greatest players in the game, and he lost his emotions. So did I."

Rodriguez said he was agitated by getting hit and got more agitated by Varitek's reaction. He wouldn't speculate if Varitek was intentionally trying to fire up his struggling team.

"I don't care what he's thinking, and I won't enter into that thought process," Rodriguez said. "It was actually kind of tough for me. He's got all the (catcher's) gear on, so it's almost like, what's the point? I almost didn't know where to go (with punches)."

Unlike October's dustup in Game Three of the ALCS, which featured lots of yapping and not much contact other than 72-year-old bench coach Don Zimmer's bullrush of Boston's Pedro Martinez, this one was a street fight. There were punches being thrown all over the area from home plate stretching toward Boston's first-base dugout.

Rodriguez and Varitek disappeared under a sea of bodies while Yankees starter Tanyon Sturtze bolted from the dugout to corral Boston's Gabe Kapler away from the pile. Kapler's teammates David Ortiz and Trot Nixon briefly triple-teamed Sturtze before several Yankees, led by Kenny Lofton, intervened. Sturtze's uniform was bloodied and he suffered a cut under the ear as well as a bruised pinky.

"It's a game of emotion, and our rivalry is like no other rivalry," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "You want to win a ballgame and you're out there defending your space."

Rodriguez was laughing and smiling while chatting with reporters afterward thanks, he said, to three hours of cooling-off time and a couple of glasses of milk.

As he was headed out the clubhouse door, a reporter asked if he feels intense dislike for the Red Sox, the team he was nearly traded to over the winter. Rodriguez put his finger to his chin, paused for a few seconds and showed a wry smile.

"Dislike? I don't know," Rodriguez said. "But put it this way: It's not love."

How unlikely was Bill Mueller's ninth-inning home run against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera? Check out these numbers: Rivera had given up just five earned runs in 47 appearances all season before giving up three in the ninth. He had allowed just one other home run. Thanks mostly to Rivera, the Yankees were 56-0 when leading after eight innings this year and 144-2 the last two seasons.

"I'll take my chances with Mariano every single time," Torre said. "Tonight it just wasn't his game."

"It's disappointing," Rivera said. "I couldn't do anything different. He just hit the ball."

The last walk-off home run against Rivera was a grand slam by Cleveland's Bill Selby, the ex-Bison, that gave the Indians a 10-9 win in Jacobs Field on July 14, 2002.

The sixth inning took 69 minutes to play as the teams combined for 10 runs (six by the Yankees) and sent 22 men to the plate. . . . Until Mueller's home run, Yankees rookie Scott Proctor was in line for the win. Pitching for New York for the first time since May 12 after a stint at Triple-A Columbus, Proctor threw two shutout innings and fanned Nomar Garciaparra to end the sixth with the bases loaded. . . . After the game, the Sox announced they added reliever Terry Adams from Toronto for a minor-leaguer. . . . The series concludes at 8 tonight (ESPN, Radio 550 AM) with Boston's Derek Lowe (8-9) meeting New York's Jose Contreras (8-3).

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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