BASEBALL Red Sox, Yankees launch season

The longtime rivalry resumes tonight in Yankee Stadium.
NEW YORK (AP) -- They are linked, like Abbott & amp; Costello, Lucy & amp; Ricky, Bugs & amp; Daffy, Bogie & amp; Bacall.
For 86 years, the New York Yankees always had the final bow against the Boston Red Sox.
Not anymore.
April 11 at Fenway Park, with their conquered foe looking on, the Red Sox will hand out World Series rings, celebrating the title that had eluded them since 1918.
"I'm sure I'm not going to help them hand them out," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said to laughter. "But they deserve it. I'm sure they've been looking forward to this for a long time. So let them do it."
As the rings are distributed, memories will return of baseball's biggest postseason comeback, of Dave Roberts' steal, David Ortiz's 12th-inning homer and 14th-inning single, of Curt Schilling's bloody sock, of Pokey Reese picking up Ruben Sierra's grounder for the final out.
Then, perhaps, thoughts will turn to the stunning Series sweep of St. Louis, when Keith Foulke flipped to Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out and all of New England had a ball.
19 rounds
It's the best drama in baseball, perhaps on all of TV. Why watch fictional thrillers when the real thing is played out 19 times during the regular season and seven more times in October?
Trot Nixon hopes it keeps going. He wants as many rings as the Olympic flag.
"I'm a greedy person. I want as many as I possibly can get," he said. "I want to be one of those guys also that has an opportunity to take a picture and have four or five rings on my finger with this team."
Aaron Boone was the star of the first act, his 11th-inning homer winning Game 7 for the Yankees in 2003. Schilling headlined the second act with his sock and his bravado.
All winter long, for every action by one team, there was a reaction from the other, be it in Beantown and the Big Apple or Fort Myers and Tampa during their spring stays in Florida.
Wells vs. Johnson
Tonight, it starts anew, with Randy Johnson throwing the first pitch of the major league season, and former Yankee David Wells pitching for Boston.
The Yankees traded for Johnson and signed Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright as free agents to fix their starting rotation. They brought in Tony Womack to play second, and brought back Tino Martinez to play first while trying to find out if Jason Giambi will recover from injuries and illness and rebound from an off-season filled with steroid controversy.
Up in Boston, where the Red Sox have sold 2.5 million tickets for tiny Fenway Park (leaving only 300,000 available), Pedro Martinez departed for the New York Mets and Derek Lowe for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wells and Matt Clement were brought in, and Edgar Renteria was lured from the Cardinals to replace Orlando Cabrera at shortstop.
Ankle recovery
Boston hopes Schilling's ankle, still recovering from surgery, will allow him to pitch by mid-April.
The Red Sox count on big seasons again from Manny Ramirez, Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek and Kevin Millar, more consistency from starters Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo, and more outstanding closing by Foulke.
Alex Rodriguez must provide more run production in his second season in pinstripes, and Gary Sheffield must rebound from shoulder surgery.
Giambi hit well this spring, but it's still not certain he'll be able to play first base regularly or be only a designated hitter, a move that would prevent Ruben Sierra from playing much.
Rodriguez insists this season will have a different ending.
"It's something I find I have to do and will do to earn my pinstripes," Rodriguez said. "I was brought in there to be the final piece, to be a world champion, and I came up short."

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