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It's about time

BOSTON – The man wearing the badge and sitting on the bench in the right-center field bullpen, there to defend the Boston Red Sox against threats real and perceived, hurled his body to the right, away from the incoming.

Fenway Park went silent.

The taunts died.

Alex Rodriguez, mocked by blond masks and "I'm with Alex" T-shirts and shouts of "Mine!" on all popups, at the conclusion of a long week got a piece of something.

Where the New York Yankees have played themselves could not be righted with a single swing, on a single night or over a single weekend, long as it may have seemed.

What they have done and what they haven't, all that has plagued them and that they brought upon themselves, will take weeks – months even – to straighten. They, in the best of situations, with an uncluttered disabled list and a narrow focus, are not the best team in the AL East. The Red Sox are.

But, they still have something. Namely, time.

What they do with it and, perhaps, what it does to them – time isn't doing Johnny Damon, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu and Mariano Rivera a lot of favors – might not even be theirs to decide.

Rodriguez homered against Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning and sent them to Chicago as winners of two of three games here. Rivera pitched through David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell and made them better off than if he hadn't.

They left without Doug Mientkiewicz. They left without Giambi. Clemens wasn't waiting in the concierge lounge in Chicago. And then the trainer was waiting for Andy Pettitte in the dugout in the fifth inning Sunday night, handing him a navy jacket, eager to get started on a back ailment Pettitte claims isn't severe – though a season general manager Brian Cashman likened to a Stephen King novel surely will get the last say. Pettitte is the only one among them who has reported for every scheduled start. And he made two relief appearances.

The Yankees beat the Red Sox 6-5. They rallied against the best bullpen in the league, against Hideki Okajima and Papelbon. Their best player waited until there were two out and two strikes in the ninth, standing on a dark night, through a slight drizzle, amid the aging brick and concrete, and took aim at the cop in right.

It's what they have. It's what they've played themselves into. It's 12½ games of arrears, feeding self-doubt and dreams of Clemens and maybe a slugging first baseman.

"It's just good to get a win," Rodriguez said, dousing ideas of one small step leading to many larger ones, adding, "It's important what we do after this. Today was good but we've got to back it up."

There was a slight delay here in the top of the third inning, the plate umpire raising his hands to pause a Sunday night ballgame in mid-knockdown, drag-out.

As every eye followed Chris Guccione's disapproving glare, a ball boy charged out of the left-field corner at Fenway Park holding … what appeared to be … a half-deflated beach ball.

A beach ball.

In Boston.

Seriously.

Somebody out there – if not a local, then an infiltrator from the far coast – brought alternative amusement to a game between the Red Sox and Yankees.

It speaks to what the Red Sox have done over two months, laying waste to a pricy division and a long-standing foe. Josh Beckett pitched into the seventh and left to a standing ovation and a rugged butt slap from Youkilis. And even after the bullpen wobbled and fell, Ortiz flew all the way to the warning track in right field against Rivera, and the potential tying run was at first base when Lowell couldn't contain his last swing.

They lost twice in three games and so have lost three times in four, but they have a relentless pitching staff to go with their unyielding batting order such that only catastrophe could finish what they started. And they don't much believe in catastrophes here anymore. Remember those eighty-some years of "the bigger the spring, the harder the fall"? You don't get that feeling walking the cobblestones.

They are through with each other now for almost three months. The Yankees took their two wins and ran off to Chicago, a game awaiting 19 hours from Rivera's last pitch. The Red Sox flew to Oakland.

And they all were pleased for it.

"I'm really, really glad," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It's a lot. The umpires are tired. The coaches. The players. It's a bit much."

Even Saturday night's postgame shower, Francona said, was an effort.

"Yeah, well," Cashman said, "his shower was a lot better than my shower."

Bad loofah at the team hotel.

Joe Torre's shower never came up.

"It's tiring," he said, "There's no question. It wears you out. … Everybody is so sensitive to our playing each other."

Not everybody. Not the guy with the beach ball.