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Curse of a rivalry

If you happen to be one of those fans who almost jumped off a bridge last winter during the Boston-New York arms race (and subsequent all-inclusive media coverage) then brace yourself.

The All-Star break is here and now the real fun begins.

The New York Yankees are an MLB-best 55-31 and hold a seven-game lead over their bitter rivals despite not getting A-Rod's A-Game. Yet still they appear determined to add Randy Johnson to their $180 million payroll – if only so the Boston Red Sox don't get him first, because we all know what happened the last time Curt Schilling and the Big Unit met New York.

What, you thought these two teams were going to stand pat? That whole hot-stove Alex Rodriguez, Schilling, Keith Foulke stuff was just a preliminary act, both good and bad for the game.

It helped sustain interest in the sport – attendance went up 13 percent. But it also allowed tired media and T-shirt salesmen to milk the Curse of the Bambino a little longer.

Most of all, it angered the heck out of, say, Kansas City Royals fans, who might as well cover their ears about what will happen between now and the trade deadline.

But for the rest of us who find perverse pleasure in watching blind ambition, deep-seated hatred and free spending in the construction of teams (also known as Southeastern Conference football), this is going to be fun.

Just last week, the Houston Astros had to announce that Roger Clemens – the best thing to happen to the franchise in a generation – was not about to be traded back to either New York or Boston.

At least not yet.

Here is what we know through "half" a season. The Yankees are the better team. Better than Boston, better than everyone (yes, you too, St. Louis).

This is almost always true, of course, especially over the long haul of the regular season. Which is really Boston's "curse." Proximity to the Yankees has ruined far, far more seasons than selling Babe Ruth. But while blaming it on the Babe is as predictable as Ken Griffey Jr. getting hurt, it does make for good television.

Anyway, New York has done all of this despite just now getting Orlando Hernandez back, getting through that Derek Jeter slump and getting just .270, 22 home runs and 58 RBIs out of A-Rod.

But the Yankees still are the Yankees. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, full of gumption from a recent 12-game winning streak, came to the Stadium last week and promptly were outscored 28-11 in a four-game sweep. By Sunday, Lou Piniella looked like he needed a stiff drink. This is how New York can toy with people – on the field and in their minds.

Which is why this Johnson trade talk has Boston in a lather.

So obsessed is Red Sox Nation that you can get a good three-hour discussion going on Boston's WEEI just by throwing out possible ALCS starting pitching matchups. (On WFAN in New York, it only lasts for about two hours.)

Just the other day John Kerry announced he was adding John Edwards to his team and some Sox fans cursed Theo Epstein for getting beat to the punch. (Of course, there also was a recent Boston web site campaign urging Kerry to name Pokey Reese his vice presidential candidate.)

As usual, the Sox aren't sitting as pretty as the Yankees. But they've been injured, Nomar Garciaparra is just starting to get hot and the late-game magic appears to be returning.

Boston may have been a little disappointing so far, but the team still is 10 games better than .500, sits atop the wild-card race and would lead three other divisions.

And the Sox absolutely will make some kind of move to get better down the stretch. And so will New York.

So this is where it gets fun again. Who gets Randy Johnson? Kris Benson? Andruw Jones and Russ Ortiz? Maybe neither, but you know these two at least will be involved. After all, neither team appears to have a budget, a long-term plan or a conscience.

Once again, neither may win the World Series, but they'll kill each other trying.

And if Houston continues to fade, can the Astros really resist big offers for Carlos Beltran or (gasp) Clemens?

You can hate this big-market dominance, but if the idea of Clemens returning to Fenway to beat the Yankees doesn't get your heart racing then you aren't a baseball fan.

It possibly would be the greatest late-season pickup ever.

Unless we find out the Alcor Life Extension Center actually works.