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There is no better way for the baseball season to open.

Yankees. Red Sox. The Big Unit versus Boomer. Tonight at 8 in the Bronx (YES, ESPN2).

It's been 165 days since the teams last met in Yankee Stadium. Surely you remember: Johnny Damon belted two home runs as the Red Sox cruised to a 10-3 win in Game Seven of an epic American League Championship Series.

The Red Sox became the first team to wipe out an 0-3 deficit in the postseason, and that set the stage for their four-game sweep of the Cardinals that produced their first World Series title since 1918.

So for the first time in 86 years, Boston enters a season looking to repeat. And, as expected, the Yankees figure to be their biggest challenger.

Tonight's game is the first of 19 regular-season meetings between the teams. The starting pitchers, New York's Randy Johnson's and Boston's David Wells, are key offseason acquisitions for their respective clubs.

April 11 is also a big day in the rivalry as Boston's Fenway Park opener against the Yankees will be preceded by a ceremony to give Red Sox players their Series rings.

While the Yankees and Red Sox figure to dominate the news much of the season, they won't entirely hog the headlines.

The steroids scandal looms over the game, particularly as close attention is paid to the comeback bid of Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi and the potential return of Giants outfielder Barry Bonds.

On the field, the Mets have put out big bucks to steal some New York tabloid headlines by signing Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. The Marlins hope the addition of Carlos Delgado can help them end the Braves' streak of 13 straight division titles. The Cardinals try to repeat in the National League in their final season in Busch Stadium while the Nationals make their debut in Washington as the game returns to the nation's capital after a 34-year absence.

Locally, the Buffalo Bisons begin defense of their Governors' Cup title Thursday afternoon at 4, when they play the Richmond Braves in their season opener in Dunn Tire Park. A preview of the Bisons' 2005 season will run in Monday's editions of The News.

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