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Yankees, Red Sox ready for impact

NEW YORK -- It's such a wildly anticipated, promising playoff matchup that Johnny Damon may even comb his hair for the occasion.

The requisite division series were won and all the preparations have been made. The Red Sox have made certain that this year their dugout has the number for the bullpen phone. Derek Jeter has postponed all Justice League of America meetings until November. Pedro Martinez has filed suit against the Yankees for all those missing child support payments. The Yankees have added an extra layer of padding to the clubhouse walls and Jason Varitek has added an extra layer of padding to his catcher's mask.

And with Don Zimmer gone, Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard has been lifting weights for weeks just in case he's needed to keep Pedro in line this year.

A year after one of the tensest, most dramatic playoff series in postseason history, the Red Sox and Yankees meet again Tuesday night in the American League Championship Series.

The Red Sox and the Yankees. Boston and New York. Athens versus the Evil Empire. Long hair versus the Young Republicans.

"This is what people wanted,'' Jeter said after New York beat the Twins in the division series, "other than the people in Minnesota.''

Typical East Coast attitude. There are millions of fans all over the country who would much rather see someone other than the Yankees or the Red Sox -- the two teams with the highest payrolls in baseball -- playing in the postseason again (especially the Yankees), but there's not much that can be done about that now. New York and Boston fans, meanwhile, have been gearing up for this rematch almost as soon as Aaron Boone's home run cleared the left-field fence.

First, there was Boston's failed trade for Alex Rodriguez that backfired when the Yankees dealt for the league's best player instead, prompting Red Sox owner John Henry to claim that baseball needed to do something about the Yankees and George Steinbrenner. Then there was the first spring training game that had fans camping out overnight and saw tickets going for a couple hundred dollars.

Then there was the game that Jeter dove into the seats to catch a foul ball while Nomar Garciaparra watched from the bench, the fight between A-Rod and Varitek, the comeback victories over Mariano Rivera, the night manager Terry Francona did an uncanny Grady Little impression by leaving Pedro in too long, and the postgame interview when Pedro said that the Yankees "are my Daddy.''

And now this, the ALCS. "It can't get any bigger than this,'' Gary Sheffield said.

Everyone calls the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry the best in sports, but their feud has been too lopsided to be really be considered better than the Dodgers and Giants, even if it is more emotional and more hyped. Boston has come up short against New York so many times that even last year when the Red Sox led by three runs with five outs to go, Boston fans could sense disaster. And naturally, they were right.

This year is different, though. Or at least, they hope it is.

This year, with Curt Schilling and Pedro and the league's best offense going up against a somewhat suspect Yankees starting rotation, the Red Sox may even be considered the favorite. As Jeter says, "They've been trying to catch us for awhile, but they've closed the gap the last couple years.''

Of course, since they are the Red Sox, there are some concerns. Schilling's ankle is a tad sore and Pedro has pitched poorly against the Yankees recently. But Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and the rest of the lineup -- plus a much better defense -- can make up for a lot of problems.

The Yankees, meanwhile. barely survived the Twins, winning the series in four games but trailing in each. And Rivera, who may be the person most responsible for their postseason record the past seven years, had to fly home to Panama due to deaths in the family (though he is expected to be back for Game 1).

But the Yankees have their own potent offense and they established in the Twins series that their starting rotation of Mike Mussina, Jon Lieber and wounded Kevin Brown may be good enough.

"I think our staff answered a lot of questions positively,'' general manager Brian Cashman said. "Lieber had never pitched in the postseason, but he was tremendous. Brown had some questions, but he was tremendous, too.''

Plus, there's the Yankees' inexplicable ability to come back. They rallied to win a record 61 times in the regular season and did it three times against the Twins, including Game 4 when they trailed by four runs in the eighth.

What will happen this year? Will the benches clear? Will Pedro leave a ticket for his long-lost father? Will Jeter leave a ticket for Jimmy Olsen? Will Francona leave touch with his senses in a crucial circumstance?

Get ready. We're about to find out. So get a good seat, sit back and enjoy. Just make sure you don't get between Pedro and Phil Rizzuto.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.