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ALL'S QUIET ON THE YANKEES FRONT

You could hear a pin drop in the Yankees' clubhouse early this morning. People don't say much when they're in shock. There is no way the Bronx Bombers expected to be playing Game Seven of the ALCS tonight.

But that's exactly what they'll be doing in Yankee Stadium against the momentum-driven Boston Red Sox.

"Not when you're up, 3-0, in the series do you think it will get to this," acknowledged third baseman Alex Rodriguez. "But right now we don't have a choice. But we'll be here. . . . I don't think any of us thought we'd be here but we have a lot of respect for that Boston team over there. Let's see what happens."

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, now a special consultant to owner George Steinbrenner, walked around the room chatting quietly with Gary Sheffield. The Yankees could use a bat like Jackson's at this time of crisis.

What's happened so far is easy to figure out. The Yankees have to find a way to rekindle their suddenly silent offense. They hit .377 and scored 32 runs in the first three games. The have just 10 runs in the last three and their average is only .229.

"They've done a great job against us," said Rodriguez, who was 6 for 14 in the first three games and 2 for 13 in the last three. "They've made things tough for us."

In Games Four, Five and Six, New York was 5 for 32 with runners in scoring position. The Nos. 2-5 hitters in the lineup (Rodriguez, Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams) were 30 for 57 with 24 RBIs and 22 runs scored in the first three games. They're were 10 for 59 with four RBIs and runs since.

"I'm not going to sit here and say we're in a slump," said shorstop Derek Jeter, who is just 5 for 26 in the series. "You can say they were in a slump the first three games. Now you can say we are. Sometimes it happens that way."

"I guess it was supposed to come to Game Seven," said manager Joe Torre. "We'll see what happens. It looked like we have been trying to close the deal in three days and now put pressure on ourselves to do that. Now there's no pressure involved. You need to go out and win a ballgame."

The Yankees are 6-6 all-time in Game Seven, including 2-3 at home. Boston is just 1-5, with its lone win coming in the 1986 ALCS against California. The Sox wiped out a 3-1 deficit to win that series.

Jeter scoffed at the notion that either team can take any motivation from last year's 6-5, 11-inning Yankee victory in Game Seven.

"Here we go again but this is a new year and a new game," he said. "All you can do is forget about these last three and be ready to come back tomorrow."

How even is this rivalry? Entering Game Seven, the Yankees and Red Sox have met in 51 regular season and postseason games the last two seasons -- and Boston has a 26-25 lead. The Red Sox have scored 275 runs in those games, the Yankees 271.

A COMEBACK FROM 0-3 DOWN TO WIN A SERIES HAS NEVER HAPPENED IN THE NBA AND HAS OCCURRED JUST TWICE IN THE NHL, BY THE 1942 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (IN THE STANLEY CUP FINALS AGAINST DETROIT) AND THE 1975 NEW YORK ISLANDERS (IN THE QUARTERFINALS AGAINST PITTSBURGH). UNTIL TUESDAY NIGHT, NO BASEBALL TEAM HAD EVEN GOT TEN TO GAME SEVEN WHEN FACED WITH AN 0-3 HOLE.

BOSTON DH DAVID ORTIZ, WHOSE WAL KOFF HITS WON THE LAST TWO GAMES, WAS 0 FOR 4 TUESDAY. HE'S 11 FOR 27 IN THE SERIES AND LEADS ALL BOSTON PLAYERS IN HITS. MATSUI IS JUST 1 FOR HIS LAST 12 AFTER OPENING THE SERIES 11 FOR 18.

Boston manager Terry Francona, on how much rest his team got after the back-to-back marathons in Fenway, coupled with the late-night flight to New York: "We don't need sleep right now. We can get it in the winter. You have a lot of late nights in this life. I'm sure you guys do, too. It really doesn't matter."

Torre said John Olerud's bruised instep may be worse than originally feared and that he won't play tonight. . . . Williams' seventh-inning home run was his 10th in LCS play, breaking George Brett's record of nine. It was the 22nd of Williams' postseason career, extending his all-time mark. . . . Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Collins, who managed the Bisons from 1989-1991 and is now the Dodgers' minor-league field coordinator, interviewed Tuesday for the vacant manager's position with the New York Mets. Collins had a 463-444 record in six seasons as a big-league manager with Houston and Anaheim is also expected to interview with the Seattle Mariners. The frontrunner for the Mets job is Yankees bench coach Willie Randolph.
e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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