<
>

Fans have fun at A-Rod's expense

BOSTON -- From the moment he stepped on the field at Fenway Park, A-Rod became a lightning rod.

Boos, taunts, singsong chants, echoing around every crooked corner of the old ballyard. And that was just fine by Alex Rodriguez.

"Anytime you have this much interest, it tells you the game is
at its pinnacle," he said early Friday night.

The All-Star who nearly wound up playing shortstop for the
Boston Red Sox stepped smack into baseball's biggest rivalry for
the first time, joining Derek Jeter on the New York Yankees' side.

A husky man standing in a third-base box made him feel welcome
during batting practice.

"Hey, A-Rod! What's it like to be Jeter's backup?" the guy
shouted.

The Fenway faithful had a field day as Rodriguez went 0-for-4
and made a baserunning blunder in the Yankees' 6-2 loss.

"It was a bit of a letdown," Rodriguez said after the game.
"It was very intense out there."

Fans spent all winter revving up following a flurry of major
offseason moves by both teams, sniping over the Rodriguez trade and
a bit of name-calling between owners George Steinbrenner and John
Henry.

"It's the Evil Empire from the Bronx, right?" said Eric
Wellmann, one of the Red Sox rooters perched in the seats atop the
Green Monster. "I think it's all goodhearted. It's more
mean-spirited down at Yankee Stadium, I think."

Yawkey Way was packed several hours before the start of
baseball's most-hyped April series in recent memory, the scent of
grilled sausages wafting outside the third-base grandstand.

Inside, the park was jammed to see the teams pick up where they
left off last October. The Yankees added to 80-plus years of Boston
misery with a thrilling Game 7 win in the AL championship series, a
playoff that included Pedro Martinez throwing down Don Zimmer and a
bullpen fracas involving Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia.

In the Hub, this four-game series was the talk of the city. News
about the Celtics' and Bruins' playoff series, the Boston Marathon
and the upcoming draft by the Super Bowl champion New England
Patriots hardly drew a mention.

AL batting champion Bill Mueller of Boston tried to low-key the whole thing.

"I think it's good for the sport, that it's on national
television and everyone gets to see it," he said. "For us, it's a
divisional game. We play them 19 times. You try not to get too high
for any game."

Maybe, but he sure seemed pretty excited after hitting a two-run
homer in the bottom of the first off Javier Vazquez.

Fittingly, Tim Wakefield threw the first pitch of the night. He threw the final one the last time they played -- Aaron Boone homered on a knuckleball in the 11th inning to win Game 7.

And on Friday afternoon, several Yankees crowded around a television in the
cramped visitor's clubhouse, watching highlights of last year's
ALCS.

"This can't be bigger than last year. You can't force it,"
pitcher Mike Mussina said.

Try telling that to the Red Sox. But at least one Yankee, reliever Paul
Quantrill, understands the frustration of the Boston faithful, having once pitched for
Boston.

"It's tougher when you're on the losing end," he said. "I'll
bet they're not watching this over there on the other side."

He was right. In the Boston clubhouse, three TVs were tuned to
the Reds-Cubs game.